How To Care For The Fish Of Finding Nemo and Finding Dory
Disney's animated film "Finding Nemo", released in 2003, and the subsequent "Finding Dory", inspired a wave of curiosity about tropic reefs and saltwater aquariums. Nemo, Marlin, Coral, Dory, The Tank Gang, and the entire charismatic cast of characters captivated watchers with incredibly realistic animation modeled after real species found in our world's oceans and in some cases, home aquariums.
With a bit of guidance and education, setting up a "Finding Nemo" themed aquarium is very much possible. As with any pet, it's a big responsibility and the first step is deciding whether or not that particular pet is right for you and your family. This guide will provide you with some excellent resources for learning how to set up a saltwater aquarium along with a complete guide to the various species of fish and invertebrates from the movie.
Is A Saltwater Aquarium Right For You?
Before deciding which of the adorable characters you want to keep in your Nemo Fish Tank, you should first educate yourself about what it takes to keep a saltwater tank. The 5 Minute Guide to Saltwater Aquariums is a comprehensive video series that will take you step-by-step through the process of setting up your very first saltwater aquarium.
Available budget and time to maintain the aquarium are incredibly important factors in deciding whether or not you are ready for a saltwater tank. Smaller tanks are generally more affordable and will not require as much effort to maintain, but you will also be limited with what you can keep.
Nemo is an Ocellaris Clownfish that generally stays small and requires a minimum tank size of only 20 gallons. In order for the larger Dory to join Nemo, the tank must be a minimum of 125 gallons. A standard 125 gallon tank measures 48" x 24" x 24".
Just be realistic about the facts and what you can commit to long-term to ensure a long healthy life in captivity for your new aquatic pets.
Should you decide that keeping a saltwater tank is just not right for you, consider setting up a freshwater aquarium instead with "Finding Nemo" themed decorations. This will not only be a bit easier if it happens to be your very first aquarium, you should be able to pacify young, inquisitive minds just the same.
The Fish of Finding Nemo
Nemo & Marlin - amphiprion ocellaris
Nemo, Marlin, and Coral are all modeled after Ocellaris Clownfish or False Percula Clownfish (amphiprion ocellaris). Clownfish like these are certainly the most iconic saltwater aquarium fish and have captivated hobbyists for decades with their vivacious temperament and hardy nature inside an aquarium.
Level Of Care: The Ocellaris Clown is a medium maintenance fish and, in general, is considered a hardy saltwater fish. They require a minimum tank size of 20 gallons with plenty of structure to use for cover and establish a territory. They can be kept singly or as a pair in most tanks, anything more and aggression is often a problem. Ocellaris Clownfish are territorial and will act semi-aggressively toward other fish, especially when new fish are added to the aquarium, during feeding time, and when breeding.
Maximum Size: Up to 4 inches.
Diet: The Amphiprion ocellaris is an omnivore and likes to eat a variety of foods (meats and veggies). High-quality flake and/or pellet foods along with a variety of frozen foods are excellent choices for clownfish.
Cool Facts: They can live upwards of 20 years, even in captivity! There are over 30 different types of clownfish found throughout Pacific tropical regions like Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Naturally, they coexist with heteractis magnifica, stichodactyla mertensii, or s. gigantean anemones and they will protect those hosting anemones with their own lives. That said, clownfish DO NOT require an anemone to survive in an aquarium and it is perfectly normal for tank-raised and wild-caught clownfish not to host in anemones inside home aquariums.
Clownfish are widely bred in captivity and whenever possible we recommend buying captive-bred instead of wild-caught (so a real-life Marlin won’t have to come looking for his son inside your aquarium!). All clownfish are males when they are born. As they grow, the dominant male will become a female and the next dominant male will become its mate. Any other clownfish that remain in their presence will remain males with a hierarchy being established among them. If the female is removed from the group or dies, the dominant male will change into a female and the next dominant male will become its mate. Once they are a female, they cannot change back into a male.
Dory - paracanthurus hepatus
Marlin’s absent-minded sidekick, Dory, is a Blue Tang (paracanthurus hepatus). Blue Tangs go by many monikers and have quite a few different “common” names such as Blue Hippo Tang, Regal Tang, Royal Blue, Blue Surgeonfish, Hepatus Tang, Hippo Tang, Pacific Blue Tang, Palette Surgeonfish, Flagtail Surgeonfish, Wedgetail Surgeonfish, and even Doctorfish.
Level Of Care: Blue Tangs are Surgeonfish, all of which grow large and are incredibly strong swimmers. They will require an aquarium of at least 125 to 180 gallons but there is a ton of debate around this subject. Juvenile tangs <6" can most certainly be kept in smaller aquariums but they will eventually require a tank that measures 72" or longer for a healthy life in captivity. The Regal Blue Tang is a high-energy, high-maintenance fish and is not considered hardy in an aquarium. Tangs in general are often aggressive toward other tangs of their same species, but it is possible to keep different tang species in the same tank.
Maximum Size: Up to 14" in the wild and commonly 8" -10" in an aquarium.
Diet: The Blue Tang is primarily an herbivore and spends its days searching for algae among the reef. They can be a great utilitarian fish in your tank, helping to clean up nuisance algae growing on the rocks. Offer seaweed once per day along with plant-based flake/pellet foods 1-3 per day. They will gladly accept meaty treats too such as Mysis shrimp, Brine shrimp, or your favorite frozen food.
Cool Facts: Like all Tangs, they have sharp, venom tip "scalpels" at the base of their tail which is why scientists have dubbed them "Surgeonfish". Tangs are also very susceptible to Ich, a parasite in saltwater aquariums. The use of a quarantine tank or hospital tank is recommended to help prevent an outbreak of ich in your existing display aquarium as well as helps to effectively treat tankmates.
Fortunately for Dory, if you want to add Marlin, Nemo, or Coral to the tank, they can all live peacefully together. In fact, with a properly set up tank of 125 gallons or larger, you will be able to keep many of Nemo’s tankmates from the dentist’s office without the threat of them wanting to escape.
The Tank Gang
Gill - zanclus canescens
The terse yet noble leader of "The Tank Gang" cursed with a scarred pectoral fin from days past is a Moorish Idol (zanclus canescens). Though the Moorish Idol is graceful and sought after by many people in the aquarium hobby, the truth is they are one of the most difficult fish to keep successfully long term which is often attributed to a very specific diet.
Level Of Care: Only expert hobbyists should attempt to keep a Moorish Idol in a home aquarium. Due to its larger size, it is recommended for aquariums of at least 150 gallons, the larger the better. Most of the captive success keeping Moorish Idols has been in large tanks at public aquaria. They are known to be very finicky eaters and although they seem to acclimate into aquariums, a lack of proper food sources and disease often results in a quick demise. They are fragile and will succumb to aggression from other fish.
Maximum Size: Up to 10" and generally about 6" - 8" in captivity
Diet: They are omnivores and eat things that grow on the seafloor (Benthic Zone) such as algae, sponges, tunicates, and small invertebrates. In an aquarium, feeding a specific fish food that contains "Sponges" and using a food soak like Brightwell Aquatics AngeLixer is mandatory along with very frequent offerings of high-quality fresh seafood like mussels, blackworms, and clams. It is best to offer Nori/Seaweed at least once per day to allow the fish to graze as needed as well.
Cool Facts: The Moors, an ancient race of people from North Africa, thought they brought happiness which is how they got their name. Most hobbyists with hands-on experience will agree, stress is what kills a Moorish Idol. Aggression, disease, the environment, incorrect diet, handling trauma, and water chemistry are all very common stressors that will lead to a decreased appetite in a Moorish Idol which is ultimately the reason they do not survive.
Our recommendation: Consider the “Poor Man’s Moorish Idol” or "Schooling Bannerfish" (Heniochus diphreutes) instead. They are a much more suitable replacement that looks similar in color and shape to the Moorish Idol.
Bloat - diodon holocanthus
Bloat is most certainly a pufferfish. The stress-induced inflation of his spine-covered body inside the Dentist's Office Tank in the movie is a dead giveaway. There are multiple species of puffers that will inflate their bodies like this but based on the shape of the body and mouth, Bloat is likely a Porcupine Pufferfish (diodon holocanthus) sometimes also called a Freckled Porcupinefish.
Level Of Care: Porcupine Pufferfish are semi-aggressive but can be great pets in a fish-only aquarium. They will require at least 80 gallons or larger aquarium because they do get big, really big. Although they can be shy at first, once acclimated into the tank they will gladly beg for food and attention, just like your dog at dinnertime. Give them plenty of space and only house these fish with equally aggressive tank mates. Nemo would not be an appropriate tank mate, larger fish that cannot fit inside its mouth are best.
Maximum Size: Up to 20" but most aquarium fish will be 6" - 12" in length.
Diet: Naturally they eat mollusks and crustaceans. In an aquarium, you should offer large chunks of meaty foods like shrimp, krill, mollusks, clams, mussels, and squid.
Cool Facts: These are pufferfish and their bodies are completely covered in spines, handle with care. Inflating their bodies is a natural defense mechanism but is really stressful on the fish, it is best to NOT entice this behavior in the tank. Their teeth also never stop growing and will need to be manually trimmed if they cannot naturally keep them worn down by chewing on live rock and hard shells. Many aquarists agree the friendly nature of a well acclimated Porcupinefish makes them the most personable saltwater fish you can keep. The large meaty chunks of food they eat mean hand-feeding is possible, further adding to their personable nature.
Gurgle - gramma loreto
Dramatic, germophobic, and all-around pessimistic, Gurgle, doubted Nemo at every turn. The brilliant color and body shaped tell us he was animated after a Royal Gramma Basslet (gramma loreto) which is one of the most common saltwater aquarium fish.
Level Of Care: They are generally very hardy fish that prefer a tank of at least 20 gallons with plenty of places to hide and swim. They are aggressive and cannot be kept in pairs. They will compete for both territory and food, especially in smaller tanks so housing them with other semi-aggressive fish of equal size is best.
Maximum Size: Up to 4" in an aquarium.
Diet: Naturally omnivores and they generally will accept high-quality frozen, flake, and pellet foods.
Cool Facts: A Royal Gramma would be an excellent choice for a Finding Nemo fish tank and will generally reside happily alongside a clownfish and tangs. They are naturally nocturnal and prefer overhangs and caves to retire during the daylight hours.
Bubbles - zebrasoma flavescens
Bubbles is the anxiety-ridden Yellow Tang (zebrasoma flavescens) and keeper of the Treasure Chest. Just like Dory, Bubbles is a Tang, complete with razor-sharp scalpels.
Level Of Care: One of the most iconic saltwater fish, Yellow Tangs are quite hardy in an aquarium and considered a medium-maintenance fish. Being a tang, they do get large and mature fish will require a tank of at least 100 gallons or more with plenty of places to hide and swim. They will not tolerate other tangs with similar body shapes but they can be kept amongst a community of other species.
Maximum Size: Up to 8 inches.
Diet: They are primarily Herbivores but tend to accept just about anything you feed them. Offer Nori/Seaweed daily along with plant-based flakes or pellets and your favorite frozen food mix.
Cool Facts: A Yellow Tang would be a great tankmate for Nemo (and family) in a large aquarium of at least 100 gallons. All tangs are susceptible to Ich so proper quarantine or use of a hospital tank is mandatory to help prevent the spread of illness.
Deb - dascyllus melanurus
Deb (and her reflection, "Flo") are likely dascyllus damselfish. Our best guess is dascyllus melanurus, the Four Stripe Damselfish, but could also be the very similar-looking Three Stripe Damselfish (dascyllus aruanus). In the movie, Deb appears with a lot more blue color than these fish have in real life which are distinctly black and white.
Level Of Care: These fish are aggressive and territorial and can harass fish many times their size. They can also become very territorial even toward each other and will fight among themselves in small-to-medium-sized aquariums. Being small, they only require a tank of about 20 gallons or more but really are not suited for a peaceful community tank.
Maximum Size: They can grow up to 3-4 inches.
Diet: They are omnivores and will eat a variety of flake, frozen, and pellet foods.
Cool Facts: Damselfish like Deb are related to Clownfish, they both belong to the family of fishes Pomacentridae. While they are often sold as beginner fish for their hardy nature, they almost always become problematic in the long run and are not the best choice for first time tank owners.
Jacques - lysmata amboinensis
Jacques is a French-speaking Cleaner Shrimp (lysmata amboinensis). In the aquarium hobby they are sometimes called the Scarlet Skunk or Indo-Pacific Cleaner Shrimp as well.
Level Of Care: The Cleaner Shrimp is the most popular shrimp in the saltwater aquarium hobby and tends to be a great addition to peaceful community tanks. They are small and only require a tank of about 10 gallons or more. As with all saltwater invertebrates, they do require stable water chemistry to thrive and are sensitive to salinity, temperature, and pH fluctuations. s
Maximum Size: Up to 3 inches.
Diet: They are naturally carnivores and will scavenge the tank and rockwork for just about anything. Flakes, pellets, and your favorite frozen foods are all accepted. They can also be trained to eat meaty offerings right from your fingers and will even offer a free manicure.
Cool Facts: They will be able to mix well in a tank set up for Nemo and most other fish from the “Tank Gang,” except Bloat (pufferfish) who might find Jacques quite tasty. Younger shrimps will set up cleaning stations in your tank and clean ectoparasites or dead tissue/scale matter from their tankmates. As they get older, they tend to clean less and start looking for hand-outs instead. They will breed in aquariums and once paired up they can produce clutches of eggs quite often. The fry hatch and immediately become a great snack for other fish and invertebrates throughout the tank. Rearing the fry requires isolation and specialized techniques.
Peach - SeaStar or Starfish
Peach is a type of Starfish or better said "Sea Star" because they are not fish at all rather invertebrates. The exact species Peach was modeled after is unknown, but pictured above are the Fromea and Linkia SeaStars, both of which are common aquarium pets.
Level Of Care: There are many different types of Sea Stars available to aquarium hobbyists. Some are very hardy while others are very difficult to keep. Some are peaceful and some can be aggressive to other invertebrates. They come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. If you would like to keep a Sea Star, we highly recommend searching for some of the hardier ones for your aquarium and do your research first.
Maximum Size: Depends on the species.
Diet: Most are omnivores but some have specialized diets. Spot-feeding or accomodating those specialized feeding habits is critical to success with a Sea Star in captivity.
Cool Facts: Starfish are known for the 5 “legs” or “arms” extending from a central disc. If a leg is lost, they can grow a new one! Sand-Sifting Stars are common clean-up crew additions and will live down in your sand, sifting out tiny morsels of food helping to keep your tank clean. Although they are not showy, hiding themselves amongst the sand, they can be great additions to larger aquariums.