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Home > Fish > 15 Rare Saltwater Fish (With Pictures)

15 Rare Saltwater Fish (With Pictures)

Yellow mask or Blueface Angelfish

We understand the allure of saltwater fish. The unique colors, sizes, and shapes are enough to explain why 2.2 million American households have them as pets 1. Perhaps part of the attraction is the challenge they offer. They often require precise conditions with a tank large enough to accommodate the bigger species.

Many of the species on our round-up are hard to find—and expensive if you manage to locate one. Some fish are unusual, which makes them even more captivating. They’re sure to catch your eye whether or not you have an aquarium.


The 15 Rare Saltwater Fish

1. Neptune Grouper (Cephalopholis igarashiensis)

Origin Pacific Ocean around Asia
Size 10–18 inches
Lifespan 30–50 years

The Neptune Grouper is a striking fish with an almost surreal neon-like coloration. Its name belies how beautiful this species is. It’s a relatively long-lived animal, which factors into its rarity and cost if you find one for sale. The fish doesn’t come up often in the trade. When it does, it can reach prices of $6,000 for one fish 2.

2. Flashlight Fish (Anomalops katoptron)

Origin Indian and Western Pacific Oceans
Size 4–12 inches
Lifespan N/A

The Flashlight Fish is well-adapted to a nocturnal life, with its two glow-in-the-dark eye patches lighting the way. The rest of its body is black, making these areas stand out even more. It hangs out in caves during the daylight hours, making it somewhat elusive. The patches come in handy when it searches the water for zooplankton.

3. Striped Squirrelfish (Sargocentron xantherythrum)

Crown squirrelfish (Sargocentron diadema)
Image Credit: Madelein Wolfaardt, Shutterstock
Origin Pacific Ocean around Hawaii
Size Up to 7 inches
Lifespan 2–4 years

It’s hard not to notice the colorful Striped Squirrelfish with its slender red body and white lines down its length. However, it’s also a nocturnal fish and will hide during the day. It’s a peaceful animal that usually hangs out in schools. The species isn’t very big either, as far as marine aquatic life goes. It also has sharp gill spines to protect it from predators.

4. Wrought Iron Butterflyfish (Chaetodon daedalma)

Wrought Iron Butterflyfish
Image Credit: chonlasub woravichan, Shutterstock
Origin Japan
Size Up to 6 inches
Lifespan Up to 7 years

The name of the Wrought Iron Butterflyfish is enough to pique anyone’s interest. It is about as gorgeous as they come, with its large-scaled, metallic black body and yellow-tipped tail. It’s endemic to Japan and its islands, which is usually the only place you’ll find it. Its small geographical range means they are an expensive, albeit gorgeous, addition to your saltwater tank.

5. Yellow Goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostoma)

yellow goatfish (mulloidichthys vanicolensis)
Image Credit: stephan kerkhofs, Shutterstock
Origin Indo-Pacific Ocean
Size Up to 20 inches
Lifespan Small yards and patios

The long and slender Yellow Goatfish isn’t as striking as some of the species on our list. Nevertheless, it has a simple beauty that you can help but notice. It’s relatively large and, therefore, needs a bigger tank. It’s a peaceful fish that is well-suited for beginners. However, they are voracious eaters, particularly when it comes to invertebrates.

6. Peppermint Angelfish (Paracentropyge boylei)

Peppermint Angelfish
Image Credit: Vojce, Shutterstock
Origin Cook Islands
Size Up to 3 inches
Lifespan 12–15 years

The Peppermint Angelfish is appropriately named because that’s the exact thought that will come to your mind when you see it. Fortunately, it’s an elusive fish and, thus, is a species of least concern. Little is known about this species. It’s probably one you’re more likely to see in a public aquarium than in a pet store, given its rarity and high price tag.

7. Colin’s Angelfish (Paracentropyge colini)

Colin’s angelfish
Image Credit: chonlasub woravichan, Shutterstock
Origin South and Western Pacific
Size Up to 3.5 inches
Lifespan Unknown

The Colin’s Angelfish packs a lot of color in its small body, with its fluorescent blue back, yellow body, and green fins. It’s another elusive species that swims deep to avoid being prey for larger marine life. It’s not a fish for the beginner because of its habitat needs, although it is peaceful. It does best with lots of hiding places in a dimly lit tank.

8. Candy Basslet (Liopropoma carmabi)

Candy Basslet
Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstock
Origin Gulf of Mexico and Southern Atlantic Ocean
Size Up to 2.5 inches
Lifespan 3–5 years

The Candy Basslet is another pretty fish that shows that beautiful things can come in small packages. It looks like a retro ‘60s animal, with its orange, pink, and white stripes. They don’t come up in the market often. However, when they do, they fetch a high price. Its beauty is one of its main selling points. It prefers deep waters, which makes it a rare find.

9. Peacekeeper Maroon Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus)

Golden stripe Maroon Clownfish
Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstock
Origin Indo-Pacific Ocean
Size Up to 6.7 inches
Lifespan 3–5 years

With a name like Peacekeeper Maroon Clownfish, you know there must be a story. If you see one, you know that sea anemones are nearby. The female is the darker of the sexes. They can change from male to female, making them hermaphrodites. They form lifelong relationships with their chosen anemone and will defend them from interlopers.

10. Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus)

leaf scopionfish in an aqarium
Image Credit: pppfrommyview, Shutterstock
Origin Indo-Pacific Ocean
Size Up to 4 inches
Lifespan Unknown

It’s hard to turn away from a Leaf Scorpionfish because of its unusual form. It doesn’t even look like a fish. However, true to its name, it is semi-aggressive and venomous. Their body shape and coloration provide excellent camouflage. This species does best in tanks with plenty of rocks for it to explore. It can even change colors to match its surroundings.

11. Australian Flathead Perch (Rainfordia opercularis)

Origin Eastern and Western Coasts of Northern Australia
Size 5–7 inches
Lifespan 3–5 years

The Australian Flathead Perch captures your attention with its yellow and blue striped body and similarly colored fins. It’s rare in the pet trade because of its elusive nature. It usually is expensive when it does show up on the market. The perch typically is a peaceful fish as long as there aren’t others small enough for it to eat.

12. Fingered Dragonet (Dactylopus dactylopus)

Fingered dragonet
Image Credit: Marina Kudrya, Shutterstock
Origin Indo-Pacific Ocean
Size Up to 11 inches
Lifespan Unknown

The Fingered Dragonet is another fish that will have you scratching your head because of its unusual form. It makes its name seem fitting. It’s a peaceful creature, although it can be a difficult pet to keep healthy. It needs live rock and food to survive in captive conditions. The fish prefers the sandy, weedy bottoms.

13. Ring Tail Surgeonfish (Acanthurus blochii)

Acanthurus blochii (Surgeon fish) swims in the aquarium
Image Credit: Barbacuc, Shutterstock
Origin Indo-Pacific Ocean
Size Up to 18 inches
Lifespan 25–35 years

The Ring Tail Surgeonfish gets its name from its C-shaped, vivid blue tail. It’s a fish of the reefs, hanging out in small schools of conspecifics. The species eats primarily diatoms and algae, making it a good choice for keeping your tank clean. It’s a peaceful fish that will get along with other docile species. It makes its home in the reefs and lagoons in the tropical reaches of the Indo-Pacific Ocean.

14. Bluespine Unicorn Tang (Naso unicornis)

Bluespine Unicorn Tang
Image By: chonlasub woravichan, Shutterstock
Origin Indo-Pacific Ocean
Size 8–20 inches
Lifespan 13–58 years

The Bluespine Unicorn Tang gets its name from the unusual appendage jutting out from its head. It’s a relatively large species of its type. The fish is diurnal and usually exists in small groups in in-shore reefs. It’s primarily an herbivore, feeding on algae. It can be semi-aggressive with its own kind, making a large tank imperative to keep the peace.

15. Masked Angelfish (Genicanthus personatus)

Yellow-mask Angelfish
Image By: Amy Devine, Shutterstock
Origin Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands
Size Up to 8 inches
Lifespan 2–6 years

The Masked Angelfish is a stunner that epitomizes elegance in the aquatic world. It gets its name from the dark mask on its face, topping its gorgeous silver body. The species doesn’t make it in the trade often since it’s such a deep swimmer. That puts it into the bucket-list category. It is a semi-aggressive and active omnivore that needs plenty of room to swim.



While the scarcity of many of these fish makes them expensive and rare, the behavior of the various species also plays a role. Being shy or a deep diver is an asset for many elusive saltwater animals. Of course, the array of brilliant colors is another feature that makes seeing any of these fish a memorable experience.

Featured Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstock

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