Reef-Safe Saltwater Aquarium Invertebrates

Hermit crab in shell. Dardanus megistos in aquarium
dmf87 / Getty Images

Not all invertebrates are "reef safe." Many of them will tear up corals, consume fish and otherwise destroy other tank inhabitants. The invertebrates listed below are some that are generally considered by experienced reef tank keepers to be safe for reef tanks. Keep in mind that nothing is foolproof when it comes to living animals. There are renegades in any species, so if your new tank critter doesn't work out, remove it before it can do serious damage.

  • 01 of 06


    Horseshoe crab

    Hillary Kladke / Getty Images

    Marine Crabs are almost exclusively considered to be scavengers, eating almost anything in their paths including live animals. Some crabs, however, are more selective feeders, consuming uneaten food, detritus and rotting substances (i.e., dead fish) and can be beneficial in an aquarium.

    • Horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus)
    • Porcelain anemone crab (Neopetrolisthes ohshimai)
    • Emerald crab (Mithrax sculptus)
    • Sally lightfoot crab (Percnon planissimum)
  • 02 of 06

    Hermit Crabs

    Close-up of a hermit crab

     schizoform / Flickr / CC by 2.0

    Hermit crabs are the small scavengers of the oceans. Many hermit crabs are selective feeders and will not eat a lot of things. However, there are some who will eat the stuff in your tank that you don't want in there, such as green hair algae, red slime algae, detritus, uneaten food, and dead critters.

    Hermit crab subtypes include:

    • Dwarf blue leg hermit crab (Clibanarius tricolor)
    • Dwarf red tip Hermit crab (Clibanarius sp.)
    • Dwarf yellow tip Hermit crab (Clibanarius sp.)
    • Dwarf zebra hermit crab (Calcinus laevimanus)
    • Electric blue hermit crab (Calcinus elegans)
    • Electric orange hermit crab (Calcinus sp.)
    • Halloween hermit crab (Ciliopagurus strigatus)
    • Scarlet reef hermit crab (Paguristes cadenati)
  • 03 of 06


    A coral banded shrimp

     Psym / Flickr / CC by 2.0

    There are many marine shrimps that are commonly kept in saltwater aquariums. These shrimps are colorful and, for the most part, harmless to the aquarium environment. Many of these shrimps naturally serve a purpose in the aquarium by consuming parasites (note: the Pacific cleaner shrimp eats parasites, the Peppermint shrimp consumes aptaisia) while the others add diversity to the tank and are fun to watch.

    Shrimp subtypes include:

    • Coral banded shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)
    • Harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera picta or elegans)
    • Pacific cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis)
    • Pederson's anemone shrimp (Periclimenes pedersoni)
    • Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)
  • 04 of 06


    A sea snail in an aquarium

    Vedat Zafer / Getty Images

    Marine snails are terrific little scavengers, gobbling up detritus, uneaten food, decaying organics, and fish waste. Many of these snails are great little rock and glass cleaners, sucking algae off of everything as they slide along.

    Snail subtypes include:

    • Cerith snail (Cerithium atratum)
    • Nassarius snail (Nassarius sp.)
    • Nerite snail (Nerita sp.)
    • Pipipi snail (Nerita picea)
    • Star snail (Cerithium sp.)
    • Turbo snail (Astrea)
    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06


    A brittle star type star fish

     Smithsonian Environmental Research Center / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Starfish are quite popular in reef tanks. Many of these creatures, such as the Sand sifting sea star (Astropecten polycanthus) and Chocolate chip starfish are predatory and should not be housed in reef tanks.

    The following starfish are considered reef tank safe:

    • Brittle starfish (Ophiocoma erinaceus)
    • Serpent starfish
  • 06 of 06

    Flame Scallop

    A flame scallop

     Jupiterimages / Getty Images

    The Flame Scallop is a reef tank safe bivalve which does not threaten any other occupant in a saltwater aquarium. A filter feeder, it requires target feeding of floating micro-plankton to be kept alive in the aquarium.