Chalk Bass Care Guide

Scientific NameSerranus tortugarum
DifficultyEasy
Final Tank Size30 Gallons
DietCarnivore
Water Parameters72-78 F, pH 8-8.4, Salinity 1.020-1.025
AggressionSemi-aggressive
Size3"
The Chalk Bass is a frequently overlooked fish that fits in many of the popular saltwater aquarium setups. They only show aggression towards other basslets and smaller fish that they can eat. Otherwise the Chalk Bass is happy to swim in a small section of the tank, taking short laps around to see what is happening. They are friendly towards other Chalk Bass is that are introduced at the same time and will effectively school and pair almost every time. They are one of if not the most forgiving small to midsize fish you can keep in a saltwater aquarium.

Even in the wild the Chalk Bass will frequently spend their time in the same small area in large groups. They are quick to adapt to life in the aquarium, are easy to feed and will even breed without much effort put in by the aquarist. While they may not be the flashiest fish around the Chalk Bass is a solid choice for any fish owner, new or experienced. The only concern you should have is other small fish or basslets in the aquarium.

Is the Chalk Bass Reef Safe?

The Chalk Bass is a model citizen when it comes to tanks with both corals and inverts. They will not harm any shrimp or crabs that are over an inch in size. Smaller shrimp will generally be fine if they were established before adding the Chalk Bass but can still become a target if they never get bigger. Large shrimp like cleaners, peppermint and the coral banded shrimp will all be safe. Crabs should never be threatened by the Chalk Bass, even small hermits.

Corals, clams and starfish are safe when kept with the Chalk Bass. The bass may spend time hanging around the corals or underneath their supporting rocks but should not directly interact with the corals. They also are not likely to eat any of the small crustaceans or worms that can bother corals, meaning you may need another fish to defend the corals like a wrasse. As this basslet chooses a place to spend most of its time it may accidentally starve feather dusters if it chooses to live in the same area and constantly scares the worm into hiding.

Tankmates that host corals, like the Porcelain Anemone Crab and clownfish should not have any issues with the Chalk Bass. They may spend time around the hosted corals or anemone but will not have any reason to fight for control of a specific spot. As the Chalk Bass typically hangs around caverns and other low flow areas they should not end up living above or beside any of these hosted objects.

The Chalk Bass’s Diet

The Chalk Bass is a very quick to eat fish that is almost never picky. They will eat just about any meaty food you place in front of them as well as any prepared foods. If your Chalk Bass is not eating you should look into their health as well as the water parameters and food itself. They are extremely hardy and should not become sick easily, making them the last fish you want to see stop eating.

A good diet for the Chalk Bass should contain:

  • High quality flake and pellet foods
  • Dried brine or mysis shrimp
  • Live gut loaded brine shrimp
  • Frozen foods
  • Finely cut meaty foods like squid or table shrimp

There is nothing special you need to do to get the Chalk Bass eating. Try to rotate the types of food you feed them to help keep a balanced diet. They are not demanding when it comes to nutrition and should do well if fed only one type of high quality flake, but I would still recommend switching foods or creating a mixture to cover more nutrients. As the bass feeds off plankton in the wild, which brings a lot of plant nutrition to the bass, feeding them some plant based foods is a good idea. Small pellets or flakes mixed into the normal feeding will typically work. The Chalk Bass does not typically eat clipped seaweed or macro algae.

The Chalk Bass is very quick to feed and may cause issues for slower moving fish. They can get fairly fat and do not stop eating after they have had their fill. To try and feed slower moving fish you should feed the tank in multiple areas and use sinking pellets to reach the fish lower in the tank. The Chalk Bass should not be harassing other fish away during feeding time unless they are unfamiliar fish that look similar.

Occasionally the Chalk Bass will grow much larger than expected. Sometimes this is due to the fish being labeled incorrectly but other times it is simply a large Chalk Bass. If they become exceedingly large you may need to move them to a bigger tank. They can create serious issues as they require more food than a small tank should have, creating a large bioload for a small tank and eating large amounts of food before their smaller tankmates can get to any of it.

Chalk Bass Tank Requirements

The Chalk Bass will almost immediately settle into the tank, as a new fishes behavior is similar to their established nature. Once freed into the tank the bass will quickly swim downwards in the tank, seeking refuge in the rockwork. Often the first picked cave will be their permanent home or at least one of the main places they spend their time. They are not easily bullied and should settle in within a day. When multiple are introduced to the tank at the same time they should stick together, instantly forming a school or mated pair depending on how many you have.

These fish absolutely need rocks in their aquarium. While they are not easily bullied they will want to spend the majority of their time swimming between rocks and hanging out just in front of their homes like an eel or jawfish would. This behavior will continue throughout the Chalk Bass’s life and will be present even if they are by far the most dominant fish of the tank. Without any rocks to claim their home the Chalk Bass will either roam the tank looking for somewhere to stay or settle into a corner of the tank.

The minimum tank size for the Chalk Bass is 30 gallons. Due to their small swimming areas they can be kept in even smaller tanks, but this may cause stress or aggression depending on how much the Chalk Bass leaves their rocks. They will try to keep other fish out of their rock work but do not usually harm any fish that swims through their home.

The Chalk Bass is not a common jumper but may do so due to the shorter tanks they are kept in. They are commonly sold very small, around an inch in length and fairly skinny. As they are long slender fish, especially when young, a tight fitting lid should always be on their tank. Small holes and cut outs like those around power cords and filtration tubing should be covered or filled in. Likewise any overflow boxes should be well guarded so that the Chalk Bass cannot jump in and get stuck.

Having a lot of caverns in a small tank will usually create dead zones or low flow zones that collect a larger amount of debris than the rest of the tank. The Chalk Bass does not eat any of this detritus. As they also do not harm any sand cleaning inverts or hermit crabs it is not too difficult to keep the sand clean in a Chalk Bass tank. If you are keeping larger sand moving inverts like sea stars or bristle worms you may want to secure your live rock in place with adhesive of zip ties. You can also use multiple small powerhead to keep the water moving evenly throughout the tank.

Chalk Bass Tankmates

The Chalk Bass is not picky about its tankmates. They will do well with most smaller community fish as well as mid sized semi aggressive fish. The only things that you should not be keeping with them are similar looking fish, other basslets or very small fish that a larger bass could eat.

Likewise avoid significantly larger fish like triggers or lion fish that can easily hunt down the Chalk Bass. Even small aggressive fish like damsels or certain clownfish will attack the Chalk Bass. Try to stick to semi aggressive temperament fish or large peaceful fish.

Good tankmates are:

  • Dwarf Angelfish
  • Clownfish
  • Butterfly Fish
  • Cardinalfish
  • Chromis
  • Tangs
  • Fairy Wrasse
  • Anthias

Keeping multiple Chalk Bass is easy to do but must be done right off the bat. Adding in any additional basslets after the Chalk Bass has settled in will not work and will see the newer basslet harassed constantly by the existing Chalk Bass. When added at the same time they will form a group without any clear hierarchy. A school will generally hang around the same area of the tank. The more of them there are the further they will be willing to stray from their home. In larger tanks this can lead to amusing situations where the Chalk Bass form a chain from their home with the individual fish watching each other leading all the way back to their home.

Inverts that start off small should be added to the tank before the Chalk Bass as the bass will eat small shrimp and may bother small crabs. Once the invert has settled into the tank and has gotten to at least an inch in size the Chalk Bass should lose most of its interest in the invert.

Chalk Bass Gender & Breeding

The Chalk Bass is one of the best fish for new aquarists when it comes to breeding and pairing. They are very fast to form communities and do not fight amongst themselves for dominance. They are hermaphroditic fish, meaning they are both male and female at all times. There will be no dominant male, even if one is much larger than the others.

This rare condition also means that any two Chalk Bass that are kept together can be bred as a mated pair would be. The main difference between them and other fish is there is no effort required to get the pair. This can even be a nuisance to saltwater aquarists who wish to have two Chalk Bass but do not want them to breed.

Breeding the Chalk Bass is very easy even in a 40 gallon aquarium. They only need to be well fed, have a consistent light schedule, good water parameters and a secure home. As these requirements are the same as having a good aquarium the Chalk Bass will frequently be found breeding without the owner even trying to encourage them.

Chalk Bass are pelagic spawners, meaning they will swim to the top of the tank before releasing their genetic materials and swimming off, leaving the eggs to float freely in the water. In the aquarium this will lead to the eggs quickly being eaten or sucked into the filtration system. Fry that hatch in the aquarium are also likely to be eaten by any of the fish in the tank, making an unintentional extra Chalk Bass unlikely. To successfully breed and raise the Chalk Bass fry you should remove the eggs from the tank using a container of tank water, adding the removed eggs to an existing tank set up to raise the fry. These should be fed plankton, phytoplankton, rotifers and small copepods after a few days.

It is important to remember that newly raised Chalk Bass cannot be added to the same tank as their parents. Unless the fry managed to hatch and survive in the same tank as their parents the new bass will be harassed and chased non stop. They can sometimes be mixed together by moving the old and new bass to a new tank at the same time or rearranging the tank while also adding in the new Chalk Bass. Doing these will put the smaller young Chalk Bass at risk.

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