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6 Colorful Dottybacks for the Aquarium

Looking for a colorful addition to your (reef) aquarium and don’t mind a fish with a bit of an attitude? A dottyback may be the species for you! They’re beautifully colored and stay reasonably small, but don’t underestimate them: these little guys can be fiercely aggressive. Still, with the right choice in tankmates, it’s not impossible for them to coexist with their neighbors relatively peacefully.

Keep reading to find out the best the world of dottybacks has to offer: 6 of our personal favorite species!

6 colorful dottybacks for the aquarium | Infographic showing different Pseudochromis and Pictichromis fish species

Sunrise dottyback (Pseudochromis flavivertex)

One of the smaller and less aggressive of its genus, the sunrise dottyback is nevertheless a force to be reckoned with. It’s naturally found in the western Indian Ocean, where it inhabits reefs and rocky zones. In the aquarium, it’s usually quite protective of the (often rather large) zone it designates as its territory.

You can keep a sunrise dottyback in an aquarium of 20 gallons or up. Just make sure you don’t have any ornamental invertebrates like shrimp in there: dottybacks are adept little hunters that unfortunately make quick work of smaller critters. Even inverts that are seemingly too large for them to eat are consumed without scrupules. 

Want to know more? You can find everything you need to know about caring for Pseudochromis flavivertex in the full sunrise dottyback care guide.

Sunrise dottyback (Pseudochromis flavivertex) aquarium fish

Neon dottyback (Pseudochromis aldabraensis)

The appropriately named, blindingly bright neon dottyback is naturally found in the western Indian Ocean, but its stunning coloration has also made it a pretty common fish to see in your local aquarium store. The fact that they’re widely bred in captivity has even led to a black hybrid popping up!

The species grows to a maximum size of around 4”, but it’s a good idea to go for at least a 30-gallon aquarium if you’d like to keep one. This gives your dottyback plenty of room to establish its territory.

Because this is one of the more bad-tempered dottybacks, it’s important to choose its tankmates with care. Go for species that are too big to be bullied, but not so aggressive that they’ll try to eat the dottyback. Be sure to avoid overly similar species like other dottybacks or wrasses, as these are likely to elicit a strong territorial response.

Want to know more? You can find everything you need to know about caring for Pseudochromis aldabraensis in the full neon dottyback care guide.

Neon dottyback (Pseudochromis aldabraensis) aquarium fish

Royal dottyback (Pictichromis paccagnella)

Very similar in looks to the popular royal gramma, the beautiful bicolored royal dottyback is one fish that’s sure to catch anyone’s eye! Naturally found in the Western Pacific, this species grows to a maximum size of around 3”. It’s both shy and territorial, appreciating plenty of hiding places in the aquarium, and not afraid to defend its favorite spots even from much larger tankmates.

You can keep a royal dottyback in an aquarium of 20 gallons or up. Include lots of live rock to help your fish feel safe and feed a meaty diet. Dottybacks are carnivores that love daily meals of frozen foods, live bugs and chopped seafood. They don’t tend to turn up their nose to prepared aquarium food options either, so you can also include carnivore pellets and flakes.

Want to know more? You can find everything you need to know about caring for Pictichromis paccagnella in the full royal dottyback care guide.

Royal dottyback (Pictichromis paccagnella) aquarium fish

Splendid dottyback (Pseudochromis splendens)

Another colorful number, and one of the larger dottyback species, the splendid dottyback grows to a maximum size of around 5”. It falls somewhere in the middle in terms of territoriality and can be kept in aquariums of 30 gallons or up.

Like other dottybacks, the splendid is considered more or less reef safe, though it will eat small ornamental invertebrate species like shrimp. The positive side: due to dottybacks’ carnivorous nature, you won’t have to worry about annoying creepy crawlies like bristleworms in the aquarium! They’re quite adept at hunting them down to eat. 

Splendid dottybacks are naturally found around the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, where they inhabit reefs. They apparently prefer sea sponges to hide out and hang around in. 

Want to know more? You can find everything you need to know about caring for Pseudochromis splendens in the full splendid dottyback care guide.

Splendid dottyback (Pseudochromis splendens)

Orchid dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani)

Also sometimes known as Fridman’s dottyback, this smaller species grows to a maximum size of around 3”. It’s naturally found in the Red Sea, although the specimens you’ll find in your local aquarium store tend to be captive-bred. This is great, as wild-caught fish often have trouble adapting to aquarium life and, unsurprisingly, the practice can harm wild populations.

Orchid dottybacks are appreciated by aquarists for generally being notably less territorial and aggressive than most of their cousins. They’re still feisty fish, but they can do fairly well in a community environment as long as you avoid very docile species like firefish.

If you decide to keep two orchid dottybacks, there can be some squabbles at first, but they will usually pair up. After all, dottybacks are protogynous hermaphrodites: they start out as females, but can turn into males at a later stage.

Did you know? ORA Farms, a large supplier of captive-bred aquarium fish, offers two orchid dottyback hybrids. The Indigo and Electric Indigo dottyback are both crosses between orchid dottybacks and striped dottybacks (Pseudochromis sankeyi). 

Orchid dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani) aquarium fish

Strawberry dottyback (Pictichromis porphyreus/Pseudochromis porphyreus)

Yep, strawberry dottybacks (also commonly known as magenta dottybacks) are quite similar visually to the aforementioned orchid dottyback! You can tell the two apart by their faces: strawberries lack the horizontal black eye stripe. They also stay slightly smaller at a maximum size of around 2.5” and have clear fins instead of the orchid’s opaque purple fin coloration. 

As far as dottybacks go, this one is considered to be one of the mellower species, although it’s still definitely not docile. Keep it with assertive tankmates that don’t look too similar to it (to avoid setting off territorial rages) in an aquarium of at least 20 gallons that has enough nooks and crannies for the dottyback to set up its territory.

Strawberry dottyback (Pictichromis porphyreus/Pseudochromis porphyreus) aquarium fish

Other beautiful dottyback species

We could go on forever, but alas, there are too many different dottyback species to discuss all of them here! If you still haven’t found the dottyback for you among the 6 discussed above, you could also look into:

  • Yellow dottyback (Pseudochromis fuscus)
  • Elongate dottyback (Pseudochromis elongatus)
  • Striped dottyback (Pseudochromis sankeyi)
  • Ring-eyed dottyback (Pseudoplesiops typus)
  • Diadem dottyback (Pictichromis diadema)


An amazing reef aquarium full of colorful fish like the various species of dottyback truly is a sight to see. If you’re dreaming of an aquarium for your home or office but don’t have the time or expertise to set up and maintain it, we can help! FantaSEA Aquariums designs, sets up and maintains aquariums for our clients. Feel free to contact us here with your ideas.

Neon dottyback image credit: Haplochromis, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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