Rainbow fish are some of the most colorful and striking fish in the ocean. Their shimmering scales and vibrant colors make them truly spectacular. But when it comes to picking the prettiest rainbow fish, there are a few standout species.
Most Colorful Rainbow Fish
One of the key factors in determining the prettiest rainbow fish is the variety and intensity of colors. Some top contenders for most colorful include:
Yellowtail Reef Fish
The yellowtail reef fish (Chromis enchrysura) is a highly sought-after aquarium fish due to its stunning colors. These fish have a bright yellow body and tail, contrasted with metallic blue trim around the eyes and mouth. Their scales shine and shimmer thanks to an iridescent coating. Native to the Indo-Pacific region, yellowtail reef fish live in large schools and coral reefs. The combination of vibrant yellow and gleaming blue makes these fish truly eye-catching.
Butterflyfish are aptly named for their wing-like fins and vibrant patterns. The ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus) takes it to another level with diagonal stripes in orange, white, and black across a yellow-orange body. Their eyes are surrounded by a prominent white band. Ornate butterflyfish inhabit coral reefs in the tropical Eastern Pacific ocean. Their bold stripes and complex color patterns earn them a spot among the most beautiful rainbow fish.
With a deep blue body accented with concentric yellow rings and electric blue trim, the regal angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus) is royalty among rainbow fish. The yellow rings become more tightly spaced towards the rear of the fish. Adults develop a protruding forehead. These tropical fish live in coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific ocean. Their large, colorful fins and striking patterns make them a popular aquarium fish. The regal angelfish truly lives up to its regal name and stands out as one of the most vividly colored rainbow fish.
Most Unique-Looking Rainbow Fish
In addition to color, unique body shapes, fins, and patterns contribute to a rainbow fish’s beauty. Some of the most uniquely-styled rainbow fish include:
The flame angelfish (Centropyge loriculus) earns its name from the blazing orange-red coloration on its body and fins. Against the fiery reddish-orange, dark vertical stripes run from its eyes down the length of its small body. These fish have a round shape with fan-like fins. Native to the tropical Pacific ocean, flame angelfish live in coral reefs. Their bright color patterns and distinctive stripes make them truly eye-catching.
With their elongated, disc-like shape and bold patterns, Moorish idols (Zanclus cornutus) cut a unique figure in the ocean. These fish are compressed laterally and feature a small mouth with a prominent tube-like “beak” protrusion. Their color pattern consists of broad vertical black, white, and yellow bands over a bluish background. Native to the Indo-Pacific, Moorish idols cruise over coral reefs. The combination of their unusual shape and striking black-and-white bands makes them one of the most uniquely styled rainbow fish.
Perhaps the most uniquely patterned rainbow fish is the mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus). These small fish are native to the Pacific ocean around Asia. They have an oblong flattened shape. But their most striking feature is their color pattern, with psychedelic wavy blue stripes across a reddish-orange background. Their oversized pectoral fins look like floating sails. Mandarinfish almost seem to be painted with their vivid colors and abstract patterns. There is no other fish quite like the mandarinfish.
Most Graceful Rainbow Fish
Gracefulness is another aspect that adds to a rainbow fish’s beauty. Some exceptionally graceful species include:
The sailfin tang (Zebrasoma veliferum) lives up to its name with its large, filmy dorsal fin that spreads like a sail. These fish have an oval disc-shaped body in shades of yellow and olive green, with dramatic black markings. Sailfin tangs inhabit coral reefs in the tropical Indo-Pacific ocean. They are fast swimmers known for their grace and agility thanks to their hydrodynamic sail-like fin. When sailing across a reef, the sailfin tang demonstrates immense grace and elegance.
Butterflyfish already exhibit grace with their wing-shaped pectoral fins. The threadfin butterflyfish takes it a step further with its ornate, lengthy dorsal and anal fins. Set against a white body, these fins are yellow with delicate blue edging. Threadfins live in tropical coral reefs of the Pacific ocean. As they swim with gentle flutters of their long fins, threadfin butterflyfish present the epitome of grace among rainbow fish.
Known for their elegant, hovering movements, the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) inhabit coral reefs in Indonesia. They have an elongated body shape with long, trailing fins. Their base color is black with three distinct white bars across their bodies. Banggai cardinalfish move with slow, delicate motions, sometimes resting in sea anemones. With their peaceful, hovering swimming style, Banggai cardinalfish demonstrate a supreme elegance.
Most Vibrant Rainbow Fish
Vibrant, neon colors also help make a rainbow fish pop. Some rainbow fish boasting outrageously electric hues include:
Few fish can compete with the shockingly neon colors of the fluorescent coralfish (Euxiphipops navarchus). These fish display day-glow blues, greens, oranges, and reds over a pearly white background. They truly look like a living box of fluorescent crayons! Found on coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans, their cartoonish colors are impossible to ignore. The fluorescent coralfish might just be the most vividly neon rainbow fish in the sea.
Royal Gramma Basslet
Though small in stature, royal gramma basslets (Gramma loreto) make a huge impression thanks to their electric purple and neon yellow color scheme. These fish have an oval-shaped, compressed body with vibrant bands of purple and gold. They inhabit coral reefs and rocky areas in the Caribbean sea. For their tiny size, royal gramma basslets pack a big punch when it comes to shockingly bright, electric colors.
One of the most unapologetically neon rainbow fish out there is the clown triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum). This large reef fish lives in the Indo-Pacific ocean. Its background color is a ludicrously bright yellow, overlayed with bold stripes in electric blue and white. Its fins are vibrant blue. If you want seriously ostentatious colors, look no further than the crazy clownish hues of the aptly named clown triggerfish.
Most Metallic Rainbow Fish
Iridescent and metallic finishes also lend beauty to rainbow fish. Some top shimmering, shining examples include:
With silvery mirror-like scales, the Atlantic spadefish (Chaetodipterus faber) is a shining beauty. These oval-shaped fish inhabit coastal reefs in the western Atlantic ocean. Their most striking feature is the metallic sheen to their scales, which glimmer and shine like liquid silver. When swimming in sunlight, these fish flash and gleam. The Atlantic spadefish takes metallic finishes to another level with its ultra-reflective mirror-scales.
Jawfish get their name from their large mouth and almost comically oversized jaws. The yellowhead jawfish (Opistognathus aurifrons) adds some shine and shimmer with its glittery yellowish-silver head and metallic blue body and fins. These tropical fish are native to the Caribbean sea and Gulf of Mexico. The jawfish’s sparkling silver head paired with deep blue jewel tone fins results in a rainbow fish with serious metallic dazzle.
Boasting a finish reminiscent of polished chrome, the blueface angelfish (Pomacanthus xanthometopon) gleams and glistens as it swims over coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific ocean. Its scales feature concentric orange and electric blue rings over a shining silver background. The eye-ring and mouth are an iridescent neon blue. These fish almost look like shiny new coins fresh off the mint. With its intensely reflective and metallic scales, the blueface angelfish is one of the most brilliantly shiny rainbow fish out there.
Largest Rainbow Fish
For rainbow fish with serious size and imposing figures, consider these giants:
The ocean sunfish (Mola mola) is by far the largest rainbow fish and the heaviest known bony fish. These odd-looking giants can measure over 10 feet long and weigh a staggering 2,200 pounds! Ocean sunfish have an almost circular compressed body and shortened tail. Their skin is silvery-grey with a metallic sheen. Though unappealingly blob-like in shape, the sheer massive size of ocean sunfish lands them a spot among spectacular rainbow fish.
With torpedo-shaped bodies measuring over 3 feet long, giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis) are commanding rainbow fish found in tropical and subtropical oceans. Their most recognizable feature is the metallic silvery sheen covering their smooth skin. Most of their body is silver-grey, with golden highlights on the fins and gill covers. Giant trevally are powerful predators and fast swimmers known for making great migrations across the open ocean. Though lacking bright colors, their imposing size and shiny silver sheen make giant trevally impossible to overlook.
Despite their name, rainbow parrotfish are more known for size than coloration. Found on coral reefs in the tropical Atlantic ocean, these chunky parrotfish grow over 4 feet long. Their large scales are arranged in a wavy, mosaic-like pattern. Rows of bright blue spots run down each scale row. Though the rainbow parrotfish lacks vibrant colors, its immense size and bold blue spotting pattern ensure it lives up to its “rainbow fish” reputation.
Most Expensive Rainbow Fish
For aquarium enthusiasts looking to splurge on rare finds, these rainbow fish carry hefty price tags:
The incredibly rare peppermint angelfish (Centropyge boylei) commands a whopping $10,000 price tag. These deepwater fish are found around remote tropical islands in the Pacific. Only a few hundred individual fish have ever been observed. They have a bright white body covered in red, pink, and purplish-blue splotches like a psychedelic peppermint candy cane. The brilliant colors and extreme rarity rocket up the value for these angelfish.
Priced at an astonishing $20,000, the Clarion angelfish (Holacanthus clarionensis) is one of the rarest and most expensive saltwater fish. They are endemic to the remote Revillagigedo Islands marine reserve off the Mexican coast. Clarion angelfish have a bright lemon-yellow body with vertically elongated black stripes and black mask-like facial markings. Only a few dozen Clarion angelfish likely exist, making them exceptionally valuable.
The masked angelfish (Genicanthus personatus) is the reigning champion when it comes to price, with a single fish costing around $30,000! This species lives in the waters around Easter Island, Sala y Gómez, and Desventuradas Islands off Chile. They have a black head with white “mask” markings, a orange-yellow body with a black vertical bar, and bold black dorsal and anal fins. The masked angelfish’s extraordinary rarity and elegant masked appearance rocket it to the apex of the most expensive rainbow fish.
Most Endangered Rainbow Fish
Unfortunately, some of these spectacular rainbow fish are classified as threatened or endangered:
|Powder Blue Tang||Near Threatened|
Scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) are on the endangered list due to overfishing and demand for shark fins. These large sharks are named for their uniquely shaped hammer-like heads. They are greyish brown on top with a metallic silver belly. Their eyes and gills are positioned on the flattened ends of the “hammer” to give them exceptional 360-degree vision and sensory perception. Though powerful predators, scalloped hammerheads are now at risk of extinction.
Opah, also called moonfish (Lampris guttatus), inhabit temperate and tropical oceans at depths up to 1,300 feet. They are prized as high-value food fish, leading to overfishing. Opah have a striking appearance, with bright silver-pink skin covered in white spots. A rusty-red coloration on fins contrasts with the light colored body. Classified as Vulnerable, the opah’s future remains uncertain.
Powder Blue Tang
The vibrant powder blue tang (Acanthurus leucosternon) is listed as Near Threatened due to demand in the aquarium trade coupled with loss of coral reef habitat. Native to the tropical Atlantic ocean, these fish get their name from their stunning powder blue coloration contrasted with bold black markings. Though still relatively widespread, the combination of habitat loss and collection for aquariums imperils the powder blue tang.
When it comes to spectacular beauty, diversity of shape and color, and global appeal – both in the wild and home aquariums – rainbow fish are unmatched. Though it’s hard to land on a single “prettiest rainbow fish”, standouts like the yellowtail reef fish, mandarinfish, banggai cardinalfish, and masked angelfish make strong cases. So take a dive under the sea and behold the dazzling wonder of nature’s rainbow fish. With ongoing conservation, we can help ensure these living rainbows continue shining bright for generations to come.