Common Name/s: Royal Gramma
Maximum Adult Size: 8cm
Natural Distribution: Western Central Atlantic: Bermuda, Bahamas, and Central America to northern South America
Depth Range: 1 – 60m
Species Notes & Captive Care Notes: An inhabitant of fore reefs and drop-offs, the Royal Gramma frequents steep rocky outcrops and reef walls and is often observed in association with caves and ledges up to around 60m depth. In such locations, this species lives in small harems with a male controlling a small colony of females. Territorial disputes between rival males sometimes arise and these can escalate from a simple chase, to a ‘gaping mouth’ display, to a full-on jaw-locking battle! Despite this, they are relatively shy and rarely stray too far from the cover of the reef for fear of predation. They have the interesting habit of swimming with their bellies orientated towards cave walls and ceilings and as a result, sometimes move around completely inverted. In terms of natural diet, small floating zooplankton may be consumed but they have also been observed cleaning parasites from other fishes in the wild. This species has been a popular choice from many years due to its bright colours, small size (up to around 8cm maximum) and interesting, relatively non-aggressive habits. A 100 litre display would be fine for a single adult fish assuming all other requirements are met. These requirements include ensuring that plenty of hiding places are available. Also, be aware that these fish are known to jump from uncovered aquaria with sudden changes of light often triggering such behaviour. Once settled, a range of foods will normally be accepted including even dried products. Water quality should, as always, be kept high, indeed it has been suggested that this species will lose colour intensity under suboptimal conditions. They are however regarded as disease resistant and have been spawned in captivity regularly. A large tank would be required to maintain a breeding group though and this also assumes that a suitable ratio of males to females can be identified and added. In terms of other tank-mates, ensure that only non-aggressive species are present and avoid adding your Gramma after more assertive fishes have become established. This may stop them from settling. When choosing a fish take care with identification as there are two similar species that may be encountered and bought by mistake. Firstly, Gramma brasiliensis (the Brazilian Royal Gramma) is virtually identical to G. loreto only with a slightly larger mouth and a less defined transition from purple to yellow giving it away. This species occurs in deeper water and in a slightly different geographical range and is said to be more aggressive than G.loreto (having said this, I haven’t seen one in the UK trade personally and they are likely a very rare import). More aggressive still (to the point of representing a severe threat to tank-mates) is Pictichromis paccagnellae (the Royal/Bicolour Dottyback). This species can be identified by the lack of both the black eye-stripe and black dorsal ocellus evident in G. loreto. It also has a slightly different body shape.
Written by J Clipperton