Why Aren't These Fish Compatible?
Different fish aren't compatible for several reasons, but it all comes down to competition. Everything in the ocean is competing for something in order to stay alive, eat and reproduce. The five basic types of competition are: Predator/Prey, Territory Protection, Mate & Status Protection, Spawn Protection and Opportunistic Feeding Behavior.
Graphics by Stan Hauter
Predator or Prey
The recipients of this type of aggressive behavior are perceived as food organisms, such as a Dragon Moray Eel (Enchelycore pardalis) consuming an ornamental shrimp, or a Lionfish consuming a small Damselfish. This category is pretty much self explanatory. It is obvious that keeping larger predatory fish with anything small enough that they can perceive as food is not a wise idea. Many aquarists choose to keep these types of fish in a specific predatory tank community, with fish like large Groupers, Hawks, Snappers and other predatory species.
The recipient of this type of aggressive behavior are others of the same or similar species, such as a juvenile Angelfish and Jewelfish attacking others. When it comes to territorial aggression, most fish react in the same way, especially when you already have fish established in an aquarium and you add in a new tank mate later on. Generally, when you place all new fish into an aquarium at the same time, a few disputes will occur until territories are established. Once that is done, the fish usually settle down and life goes on. The problem of "harassment" will most likely occur whenever you put a new fish into an established aquarium community, and most often it doesn't seem to matter what type or species of fish it is.
Mate and Status Protection
The recipient of this type of aggressive behavior are other fish of the same species, such as a mated pair of Clownfish attacking others. It is interesting that most species exhibit this type of behavior. For example, if you put a mated pair of Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Boxfish, or just about any other type of mated species in a tank, and then add another male or female of the same species later, typically the same sexed fish will go after the same sexed fish that was newly introduced. Limiting a tank to one specific mated species is wise.
The recipient of this type of aggressive behavior are all other fish near a nest area, such as Damselfish protecting their spawn from other fish that may stray into their nesting area. It helps to keep fish that spawn in captivity in larger sized aquariums, and provide ample housing not only for the nesting species, but all the other tank inhabitants as well. Pelagic or “free-spawning” fish, such as the Yellow Tang, do not demonstrate this type of behavior.
Opportunistic Feeding Behavior
The recipient of this type of aggressive behavior are all other fish and invertebrates. A good example of this behavior are Triggerfishes, which will eat just about anything. Fish that have this type of behavior are best kept in a specific aggressive species tank community. Many times aquarists will keep Triggers with other Triggers, as well as Lions, Groupers, Hawks, Snappers, and other larger predatory species.
Before adding any new livestock to your tank, it is wise to learn about their particular behavior patterns in order to avoid competition which will end up in your losing some of your valuable fish and/or invertebrates.