Dottyback: Fish Species Profile

Orchid Dottyback on reef

vojce/Getty Images

Dottybacks are a genus of small, brightly colored saltwater fishes. These fish may be small, but they can be aggressive and will fiercely defend their cave or crevice home. Dottybacks are hermaphrodite fish and employ various reproductive strategies.

Species Overview

Common Name: Dottyback

Scientific Name: Pseudochromis spp.

Adult Size: 3 inches

Life Expectancy: 5 to 7 years

Family Pseudochromidae
Origin Indo-Pacific
Social Moderately aggressive
Tank Level Bottom dweller
Minimum Tank Size 30 gallons
Diet Carnivore
Breeding Egg layer
Care Easy
pH 8.1 to 8.4
Hardness dkH 8 to 12
Temperature 74 to 82 F (22 to 28 C)

Origin and Distribution

There are many species of Dottyback fishes native to Indo-Pacific coral reefs. Known for their vibrant coloration, dottyback fish are vivid additions to any reef or coral aquarium.

Many varieties of dottyback have been successfully captive-bred. Even hybrids are being seen that do very well in captivity. Always try to purchase captive-bred fish to limit those taken from wild populations.

Colors and Markings

All dottybacks have elongated bodies with various colorations. The Purple or Orchid Dottyback are known for their bright, vibrant purple color. The Indigo or Electric Indigo are captive hybrids with a bight blue stripe along their lateral midline mixed with white and black stripes. The Neon Dottyback and Purple Stripe Dottyback are a mix of bright colors, broken up both vertically and horizontally along the sides of the fish. No matter which species you choose, it will be a bright addition to your saltwater aquarium.


Dottybacks may be small, but they can be aggressive. They do well in many saltwater and reef community tanks, provided they have a hiding place to call their own. It is critical to provide your dottyback with a cave or crevice among the décor that they can live in and defend.

You can add more than one dottyback to an aquarium, but to be sure that they do not overlap in territory, add them at the same time so one is not more dominant than the other. Some good tankmates for dottybacks include semi-aggressive fish that are too big for small caves, such as the Flame Angelfish, and some species of Tang and Surgeonfish.

Dottyback Habitat and Care

Hiding places are key when adding dottybacks to your aquarium. If they have nowhere to hide, your fish will become stressed and more aggressive towards the other fish in your tank. Since they are not very big, small crevices and caves will suffice, provided there are no other small fish, such as damsel fish, competing for the same spot.

As with all saltwater aquariums, it is vital to provide good water quality. Choose a salt mixture that fits your fish's needs. If your aquarium does not have corals, you should be using a marine mix, not a coral or reef mix.

Dottyback Diet and Feeding

Since they are carnivores, dottybacks will require a diet rich in meaty products such as dried or frozen shrimp. Frozen diets may lose some of their vitamin content, especially water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C. Complete pelleted diets are available to help supplement frozen carnivore diets.

For most marine fish species, a variety in the diet is key. Depending on the mix of species in your aquarium, you should select their diet from the herbivore, omnivore or carnivore spectrum of available fish foods.

Gender Differences

Most dottybacks are hermaphrodites. Depending on the species, your fish may be simultaneously hermaphroditic, with both functioning male and female reproductive organs; protogynous hermaphrodites, born a female and convert to a male; or protandrous hermaphrodites, born a male and convert to a female.

The common Orchid Dottyback is an example of a protogynous species that starts as all females with the largest fish converting to male. This means that the largest fish in a group or pair will likely be a male.

Breeding the Dottyback

In order to successfully breed your dottyback, you should know which reproductive model your species follows. Be sure to provide them with an appropriate home and feed an appropriate diet. You will need at least two fish of the same species or you may want to breed in a group, known as a harem, with one dominant male and the rest females. Fish will lay eggs in their cave or crevice, with eggs hatching in approximately 4 days.

Larval fish will be easy prey for other fish in the tank, so be sure to breed your dottybacks in a separate breeding tank. It is critical to feed your dottyback fry an appropriate diet in order for them to properly development.

More Pet Fish Species and Further Research

If you like dottybacks, and are interested in compatible saltwater species, check out: