Royal Gramma Care Guide & Species Profile

The Royal Gramma is one of the most famous Basslets of all, and it truly lives up to its name. These fish are best known for their regal purple and yellow appearance. Their beginner-friendliness and striking appearance have made them a very popular saltwater reef fish.

If this is your first reef aquarium then the Royal Gramma is a worthy investment. Building the perfect home for this fish is easy and fun. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this royal fish…

Royal Gramma 101

The Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto) lives in the tropical reefs around the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Wild specimens are more commonly known as Fairy Basslets and they come from the Grammatidae family, which includes all other Basslet species. Royal Gramma are famous for their purple and yellow body.

Just remember that marine setups are almost always higher maintenance than freshwater tanks. You should have at least some experience with freshwater fishkeeping before taking on a saltwater tank for the first time.

Marine fish are almost always more expensive than freshwater fish too. Expect to spend between $20-$40 per Royal Gramma.

  • Experience Required: Freshwater Fishkeeping.
  • Nicknames: Fairy Basslet.
  • Color Forms: Purple and yellow.
  • Size: 3 inches.
  • Tank Size: Minimum 30 gallon.
  • Tank Temperature: 73°F to 80°F.


Gramma loreto

The Royal Gramma has a truly regal appearance. They are purple and sunny yellow. In the space where the two colors meet the yellow color fades to a dotted pattern that is different on each individual. There is also a black spot on the dorsal fin and two black stripes across the eyes and the mouth.

Royal Grammas have a torpedo-shaped body that is wide near the head and thins out slightly towards the tail. As juveniles they will be about an inch long, but they will reach 3 inches once fully grown. Their eyes are large and protrude from the head. Royal Gramma also have very large lips for such a small fish.

The dorsal fin travels down the length of the dorsal side, starting just before the head and ending just before the tail. The fin’s colors match their body and are purple at the front and bright yellow at the back. The small rounded anal fin is found just before the tail and comes in the same yellow color. This is preceded by two thin purple pelvic fins.

Two tiny pectoral fins sit just below the gills and the tail features a fan shaped yellow caudal fin. All Royal Grammas are born female and gender difference occurs once they reach about an inch in length. After this males will grow to about an inch and a half larger than the females.

Males will be a brighter color and behave more aggressively than the females.

Common Colors

Royal Gramma come in just one color form: purple and yellow. The shades may vary slightly from fish to fish, but not enough to be recognized as different color varieties.

Care Guide and Lifespan

Royal Gramma Basslet

Royal Grammas are well-known for being hardy. They are very resistant to most of the diseases that plague other saltwater fish. However, they are still more high maintenance than freshwater fish. This is because of their sensitivity to salinity, temperature, and acidity.

Royal Gramma need cleaner tanks than freshwater fish. To clean your saltwater tank you must change the water at least 25% every 2 weeks and use marine salts to re-chlorinate new water that you add to the tank. You should also remove any debris, detritus, and leftover food scraps that you find at the bottom of the tank. Finally, vacuum the substrate and clean your rocks and aquarium glass.

Use a thermometer to make sure that your temperature remains consistent at all times. Any rise or drop in temperature could mean that something is wrong with your heater. You should also use test strips and litmus papers to check the pH every so often. Use a hydrometer to monitor the water hardness.

The most common illness a Royal Gramma can get is marine ich. This is a little different than the ich that occurs in freshwater fish. Fish with marine ich have a sprinkling of white dust over their scales. The fish may rub against rough surfaces in your tank to relieve itching too.

If marine ich does develop you can treat it with anti-parasitic medication. Make sure that you isolate the affected Royal Gramma until the infection has been completely cleared.


Royal Grammas are actually micro predators. This means in the wild they will eat marine zooplankton and phytoplankton, copepods, snail veligers, and larval crustaceans. They will also eat adult snails that are less than an inch in size, as well as amphipods and isopods under rocks. They may even eat parasites off of the scales of other fish (just like a cleaner Wrasse).

When kept in an aquarium, you should feed Royal Gramma a mix of commercial foods, in addition to the types of foods they would eat in the wild. Since they are not picky about what they eat you can feed them freshwater zooplankton along with marine zooplankton. They will happily munch on brine shrimp and Mysis shrimp.

Nauplii and copepods are among their favorite foods from their natural habitat. As a treat you can feed them frozen meat from adult crabs and shrimp. You can also give Royal Gramma cuts of frozen fish as occasional treats.

The naturally occurring algae and phytoplankton in your tank makes a great supplementary food source for your Fairy Basslets. Although they are not fussy eaters they will get bored if you feed them the same foods day after day. You will need to give them something different each day. Feed them twice a day and make sure to place the food close to their chosen territories. Any leftovers will be taken and stored away in their hiding spots for later.

Royal Grammas are among the easiest saltwater fish to feed. Here is a list of all the things they can eat:

  • Flakes
  • Pellets
  • Brine shrimp
  • Mysis shrimp
  • Crab meat
  • Shrimp meat
  • Frozen fish
  • Copepods
  • Nauplii
  • Snail veligers
  • Algae
  • Phytoplankton
  • Ectoparasites
  • Detritus


Royal Gramma have lots of interesting behaviors. For example when they find a narrow space they will turn themselves upside-down and enter with their belly up. Every so often you may see them swimming along rough surfaces in this way. They may even attempt to climb the aquarium glass.

When they are feeling threatened by another fish in the tank they will open their mouths wide and show all of their teeth. This can make them look quite imposing to an intruder. Fights may break out if tank mates get too close to the Gramma’s territory. They will rush at the intruder from their hiding spot and chase them down and gape at them until they get out of the way.

However, Royal Gramma are peaceful fish for the most part. They will spend most of their time in the dimly lit areas of the tank. They do not travel far from their own territories and do not interact with others outside of breeding.

Is The Royal Gramma Fish Reef Safe?

The Royal Gramma is reef safe. They feel the most at home in the reef and make their homes in the crevices of corals and live rocks. They will claim one specific spot on the reef as their own territory and defend it from any other fish in the area.

Because Royal Gramma will not eat or damage their home reefs they are considered a safe species for reef aquariums. They are compatible with many different kinds of corals, but like stony corals the most. If you are not ready for the demands of maintaining a coral reef, you can use live rock instead.

Habitat and Aquarium Set Up

Royal Gramma Substrate

In the wild these fairy basslets live in tropical reefs and settle into small crevices in the rocks and corals. Once they claim a territory they will fiercely defend it for several months before moving on to the next one.

They tend to inhabit areas where there is an abundance of algae and zooplankton. You will find Royal Gramma often pick habitats closer to the bottom of the reef where there is shade. In these deeper waters they are able to stay out of the sight of predators and intruders. One Royal Gramma needs at least a 30-gallon tank. The ideal water parameters are:

  • Temperature: 73-80°F
  • pH: 8.0-8.5
  • Water Hardness: 8-12 dGH

Just remember that you will need to use marine salts to maintain a saltwater environment. For the substrate, you can use aragonite or live coral sand. This is the best foundation for a reef to grow on. Royal Gramma love to jump so you will need to use a hood. The hood can include an LED aquarium lighting system.

LED lights work differently than the full spectrum bulbs used for freshwater tanks. The intensity is measured in PAR rather than in watts per gallon. For this tank you will want to aim for at least 50 PAR of LED light for at least 9 hours every day. The tank should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

Royal Grammas spend most of their time in the lower-middle levels of the tank so you should include lots of rocks and corals. You will need to provide enough ledges, shelves, crevices, and caverns for these basslets to establish their territories in. Live rock is a must, whether you use real corals or not.

It is recommended that you include at least a few low maintenance corals in this setup. The best corals for this setup include: hammer coral, brain coral, boulder coral, and leaf coral. If you are not yet ready to take care of corals then you can use live rock as a substitute.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 30 Gallons
Tank Type Saltwater Reef
Temperature 73-80°F
pH 8.0-8.5
Hardness 8-12 dGH
Flow Light to Medium
Substrate Aragonite or live sand

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

One of these fairy basslets needs a 30-gallon tank with a small live rock or coral reef. For a pair you will need at least a 60-gallon aquarium. A group of Royal Gramma will need at least 90 gallons.

History and First Sighting

The Fairy Basslet was first discovered by Felipe Poey in 1868. It was originally categorized in the now defunct Pereidae family. In 1887 it became one of the founding species of the new Grammatidae family. However it was not until the mid-20th century that the beautiful Royal Gramma Basslet was first kept in saltwater aquariums.

Sadly their increasing popularity led to wild population declines by the 90s. By 2006 the species made up over 40% of saltwater aquarium imports from Puerto Rico and the surrounding area. Over harvesting threatened both its populations and the stability of the reefs.

During the late 2000s there was a shift towards more sustainable practices including captive breeding and fishing moratoriums. Today Royal Gramma is considered least concern, thanks to the success of sustainable fishing practices. It is now one of the most popular fish for saltwater aquariums.

Tank Mates and Compatibility

These beautiful basslets get along with all sorts of other reef fish but there are a few rules to follow when stocking your tank. All tank mates must be peaceful enough to avoid fighting; however, they need to be tough enough to stand up to occasional bullying.

Tank mates must also be peaceful and nondestructive to corals and live rocks. Most importantly, they must not look like the Gramma itself in shape or in color. If you follow these simple rules then you will be able to create a safe community for your Fairy Basslets to live in.

Some good tank mates to consider for your Royal Gramma are:

  • Clownfish
  • Green Chromis
  • Firefish Goby
  • Neon Goby
  • Coral Beauty Angelfish
  • Blue Pygmy Angelfish
  • Banggai Cardinalfish
  • Yellow Tangs
  • Filefish
  • Hawkfish
  • Peppermint Shrimp
  • Coral Banded Shrimp

You should avoid any species that look like the Royal Gramma, including the Royal Dottyback and Orangeback Fairy Wrasse. Some Pygmy Angelfish come in similar purple shades too which will trigger aggression in your Basslets. If you are including a Pygmy Angel then it should be a different color.

Do not include any Damselfish other than the Green Chromis as most other species are very aggressive and territorial. Dottybacks should be avoided for the same reason. Also remember not to include any large fish that may prey on your basslets.

Keeping Royal Grammas Together

The most important part to keeping Royal Grammas together is space. If your tank has enough space for everyone then it is safe to keep more than one of these fish on the same reef. You will want a tank size of at least 80 gallons, but preferably 100 to be safe. Never keep too many male Royal Grammas in the same group.

Breeding Royal Gramma

The Fairy Basslet’s natural breeding season runs from February to June. To breed them in captivity you need a mated pair and a water temperature above 73°F. If you are keeping a group then males will breed with multiple females in one season.

When he is ready to mate he will begin to clear out a nest in an area of rocks on the reef. He will furnish the nest with algae mats for the eggs to sit on. Copulation will occur under cover and your female will lay her eggs in the early morning hours. One female can produce between 5 and 40 eggs per spawning.

The male will remain close by the nest and defend it from intruders until the eggs hatch (this takes about a week). You can remove the male once all of the eggs have hatched. This is where things will get a little tricky as not all of the Royal Gramma fry will hatch, grow, and develop at the same rate.

Some will be larger than others and they must be fed different kinds of prey. The smallest offspring can be fed rotifers and copepods. Larger fry can be given larval brine shrimp. Once the offspring reach an inch in length they can eat Mysis shrimp, Nauplii, and snail veligers. At this size some of your offspring will change to male, while others will remain female.

After your new basslets are 1-1.5 inches long they can join the main community tank.

Quick Care Facts

Royal Gramma
Other Common Names: Fairy Basslet
Scientific Name: Gramma loreto
Family Name: Grammatidae
Distribution: Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico
Size: 3 inches
Color: Purple and yellow
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Lifespan: 3-6 years
Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Peaceful reef fish


This species is recommended for newcomers to reef aquariums because they are very hardy. Royal Gramma are often kept as tank mates for the famous Clownfish. Do not be alarmed if a coral reef is too challenging for you. This fish will appreciate a live rock reef just as much.

Although Royal Grammas can be a little feisty at times, they are perfect for saltwater communities and their quirky personality will bring loads of fun to any reef tank. The key is to make sure that there is enough space for them to feel safe in solitude. We hope that this guide has convinced you to consider this wonderful reef fish.

Do you have any questions about this royal fish? Let us know in the comments section below…