The Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto), also known as the Fairy Basslet, is a colorful saltwater fish that is ideal for small nano-reef tanks. It has beautiful contrasting colors—purple on the front and yellow on the back—that make it a striking addition to any tank. In addition, its general hardiness and often quirky personality make it a favorite of both new and experienced fish keepers. It is an excellent reef fish and tends to get along peaceably with other species.
Perhaps the best-known portrayal of a Royal Gramma in popular media is through the character of Gurgle in Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Gurgle is the brightly colored but also germophobic (or just phobic) friend Nemo encounters in the dental office tank.
Royal Gramma Lifespan & Size
Royal Grammas grow to be around three inches but usually stay between 1.5 and 2 inches or around 3.8 to 5 centimeters. The largest Royal Gramma to ever be measured came in at 3.1 inches or 8 centimeters. They are a member of the Basslet family.
They are fairly hardy fish and will stay part of your aquarium for a number of years with proper care. Their front half ranges anywhere from purple to magenta, fading into a golden yellow or orange color on their back half. However, when viewing the fish underwater, they often appear blue on the front rather than purple. They also have dark lines from their mouths back toward or even over their eyes. They also tend to have a dark spot right at the top of their dorsal fin.
Royal Grammas, while quite expensive globally, tend to be very cheap in the United States, running between ten and thirty U.S. dollars each. Thus, they are particularly popular for U.S. based hobbyists.
Behavior & Characteristics
The Royal Gramma is native to the Caribbean and parts of the Pacific, where it generally prefers to spend its days hiding in the deep reef rocks and caves. It prefers lower light, and feeds on various meats, including fish, zooplankton, crustaceans, and shrimp.
Be careful housing your Royal Gramma with bigger predator fish that would be large enough to eat it. Aside from that, the Royal Gramma has relatively few restrictions as far as tank mates. Generally a peaceful fish, you should nevertheless be careful housing your Royal Gramma with others of its kind. They will tend to be territorially aggressive toward each other, but not toward other species.
The only fish it is likely to bother is another breed of very similar size and habits. Royal Grammas do not take well to fish who try to steal their hiding places and are likely to fight to maintain their territory. Aside from that issue, they are very peaceable fish. Not only does the Royal Gramma get along with most other fish, but it is also safe to be around stony and soft corals and sessile invertebrates. Because of its general peacefulness, it is a popular choice for reef aquariums.
One word of warning, however. The Royal Gramma looks very similar to another common breed of fish, the Royal Dottyback (Pictichromis paccagnellae). Although similar in diet, care, and general hardiness, the Dottyback can be very aggressive, and thus will not make quite such a peaceful addition to your tank. The Dottyback will lack the dark line from the mouth to the eyes, and will also have a hard-lined delineation between the purple front and the orange back. Conversely, the Royal Gramma, which does have the dark lines from mouth to eyes, will also fade from purple into yellow as you look back along its body.
Royal Grammas have also been reported to display a number of unusual characteristics, including the occasional floating upside down, particularly in the filtration column.
The Royal Gramma eats most meats, and will readily eat just about anything you offer it. However, the recommended diet includes shrimp (mysid or enriched brine), plankton, dry pellets or flake food, or chopped crustaceans.
It is best to feed several times a day, but Royal Grammas are decidedly not picky eaters. They will even accept frozen foods. However, varying their diet will help ensure that they get all the necessary nutrients. Do be careful housing them with very small fish that they may attempt to eat (and the same goes for very small crustaceans).
Royal Gramma Health
Royal Grammas are very hardy fish, and thus only really need to be watched for general signs of health concerns in saltwater fish. These concerns can include ammonia poisoning (indicated by inflamed gills and visible gasping) and dropsy (bloating and raised scales).
Many health issues can be avoided via proper nutrition and tank cleaning. Incidentally, the Royal Gramma is a cleaner fish in the wild. It removes ectoparasites from on or in the skin of other fish. However, it generally eats meat or dry food in captivity, so do not depend on it entirely for cleaning.
Be sure that you have an adequately sized filtration system for the size of your tank, as this contributes greatly to cleanliness and water content balance, both of which affect the health of your fish.
Overall, the lack of sickness prevalent in most Royal Grammas makes them an excellent, low maintenance first reef aquarium fish option.
Royal Gramma Care
Royal Grammas should be housed in a tank that is at least 30 gallons or 115 litres. Their water should be around 72-78° F/22-25.5° C. Be sure to keep pH-value between 8.1 and 8.4 and the specific gravity at 1.020-1.025.
They will also need rocks and other hiding places. Remember that their natural habitat involves ready access to various hiding holes. You will need to simulate this environment in order to make your Royal Gramma feel secure. They also prefer lower light areas. If you do not have a lot of shaded or hiding places, be sure the tank is in a less lit area.
Royal Gramma Breeding
All Royal Grammas are born female, but some will change to male over time. The best way to tell the difference between male and female is to look at coloring. The male will generally be more brightly colored and may be slightly larger. They will also get darker in color as they approach the mating season.
Royal Grammas spawn in caves. They also tend to reproduce via one male fish and a group of female fish at a time, which can be difficult as Royal Grammas are not housed in groups under normal circumstances. They spawn inside a nest, which the male creates from macrolage or similar material.
Females do not lay eggs all at once, but rather lay groups of eggs each night for several nights—sometimes up to a month. This characteristic can pose challenges to breeding. It can also leave your Royal Gramma eggs exposed to larval snaggers, devices which allow breeders to remove the eggs from the tank to hatch them.
Eggs tend to have small tails on them, which keep the eggs attached to the nest. Total, there can be anywhere between 20 to 100 plus eggs in a single female’s nest.
The eggs will usually hatch at night. They take between five and seven days to hatch.