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Fish Profile

Royal Gramma Basslet, Gramma loreto

Photo courtesy of Paul Whitby, PhD.

05.14.2011-1 05.14.2011-2 05.14.2011-3
Photo courtesy of RokleM.


Common Name:

Royal Gramma, Fairy Basslet.

Scientific Name:

Gramma loreto


Commonly this fish will be described as reaching 3 inches maximum size. In rare instances the Royal Gramma may reach close to 5 inches.

Distinguishing Features:

Distinguishing Features: Without a doubt, the Royal Gramma is one of the more striking fish commonly seen in the reef aquaria hobby. The front of the fish is a vivid iridescent purple or violet that blends across the middle of the fish to a sunburst yellow. Interestingly, the yellow area appears to blend into the purple by a series of dots, providing a unique and very distinct pattern. The Royal Gramma also has a black line extending across the eye from the mouth. It is also characterized by having a small black spot on the dorsal fin.


Gramma loreto are native to the Caribbean.

Natural Habitat:

The Royal Gramma is a native cave dweller and, as such, can be found anywhere there is extensive rockwork, such as reef walls, caves, overhangs, or other large structures, such as coral outcroppings and large sponges. As long as these areas have holes larger than a gramma, they can be observed poking their heads out, nipping out to snag a food particle and quickly returning to their home. They are not prolific swimmers and do not seem to venture too far from their selected home.

Feeding Requirements:

Gramma loreto is one of the easiest fish to feed. Of the many dozens I have owned over the years I have yet to find one that was a fussy eater. For the newly acquired specimen not feeding, I would recommend mysis shrimp, but they do seem to eat anything from flake to pellets to frozen food almost immediately.

Difficulty Rating:
(1 = easy - 5 = hard)

These fish are extremely easy to keep. They are easily fed and pretty happy so long as the tank has rocky caves for them to inhabit. On a scale of 1-5, where one was the easiest, I would place them in the 1, or slightly above, category. Like many fish that can be bred, tank raised specimens are by far the hardier variety. Buying tank raised specimens represent the most ecologically sound option as well. My experience with their care had led me to give a rating of "1".

Aggressiveness Rating:
(1 = shy - 5 = nasty)

The Royal Gramma is generally a peaceful fish, happily coexisting with all other tank members - so long as they are not bright purple. Should aggression arise, the Royal Gramma will gape. This is a somewhat comical event with the distressed Gramma opening its jaws really wide and doing its very best to look more like a Great White Shark than a little harlequin colored fish. One of the images accompanying this article is a classical gape posture. This can often be elicited by having ones hands in the tank, or even a camera in the face of the fish. When researching this fish, most authors will recommend keeping a single specimen. This is sound advice, but a tank with a harem of Grammas is a true sight to behold (Personal Experience discussed below). My experience leads me to a rating of "1".

Captive Requirements:

Apart from a varied diet, the Royal Gramma really has no special requirements. These are one of the few marine fish that seem to readily spawn in captivity. Since they can become territorial to their home turf, having other species of fish with it requires a larger tank. The minimum size for a Gramma loreto should be 30 gallons. When keeping multiple Royal Grammas it is advisable to larger aquariums, with harems having a minimum 100 gallons.

Reef Tank Compatibility:

Many people have had a wide variety of experiences with these fish. Personally, I have had no issues with interspecie compatibility and these fish are usually sold as peaceful tankmates. Once settled they can become guarded with their territory and may gape or chase intruders. Aggression can be seen against other similarly colored fish. This includes Gramma brasiliensis or Gramma melacara.

Personal Experience:

Many years ago, back in the late 1980s, I saw my very first Royal Gramma and at that instant decided to keep a saltwater aquarium so I could also own one of these incredible fish: thus began my career in saltwater. I think at the time in the UK, my local stores could only get Royal Grammas, a few clowns, and yellow wrasses. Since then, every tank I have owned, or set up elsewhere, has had Grammas in it. They are show stoppers with their vivid coloration. In tanks in excess of 100g I generally add a harem. While many authors would suggest keeping single specimens, I really like the interactions of a group. To accomplish having a harem, it is essential to add the Royal Grammas all at the same time without any established Gramma loreto. As a general rule, fish should always be quarantined for a sufficient amount of time. I actually quarantined the group together in a large (50-75g) tank with lots of rockwork. Once placed together, a slight aggression can be noted. Afterwards, they seem to happily coexist. Many times the entire group will inhabit one small cave. As the lights come on they will file out of the cave and spread across the rock in the general area and, as lights go out, will return to the same cave. During the day they seem to pay little attention to each other. If you plan to group grammas, I would suggest obtaining the smallest specimens possible to avoid selecting multiple males. Generally the larger ones are male and having two males in the group will not work. One other feature of the fish that is really unique is the habit of aligning the belly to the closest rockwork. This means that the Gramma can spend its life upside down under a rock overhang.


Royal Grammas are one of my favorite reef fish out there. They are relatively cheap, quite hardy, and good tank mates for a mixed aquarium. Their quirky nature of gaping and hanging upside down makes for an interesting addition to the tank. All in all, for me, the Gramma loreto is a must-have fish for the aquaria.

Futher Reading:

For more on the Basslet family, read this excellent article by Henry Schultz.


Note: All of the above information has been compiled from various sources and should be used as a guideline, not a hardfast rule. Use caution when selecting animals for your own tank and research as much as possible before purchasing any animals. Remember that certain corals and fish are very hard to keep if their special requirements are not met. The information contained here is to help you make an informed decision. The author assumes no responsibility for any consequences that may arise from the use of this information.

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