A short snorkel on a healthy tropical coral reefs gives you the opportunity to see more vertebrates in a shorter time than in any other ecosystem...


This is a general name for several groups that are not particularly closely related.

(Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo, Western Australia)
(Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo, Western Australia)

Many fish can and do change their colours throughout their life. Some fish, like this Tripletail Wrasse above, are capable of changing colours in just a few minutes.

Class Chrondrichthyes

This group includes the sharks and the rays.

Family Dasyatidae: '(Whiptail) Stingrays'

These rays do have venomous spines on the tail and can sit motionless buried in shallow water. 

ray-blue-spotted-lagoon-stacks-ningaloo(The Stacks, Ningaloo, Western Australia)

Taeniura lymma, 'Blue-spotted Fantail Ray'. The longer common name is to distinguish this species from the many other rays with variations of blue spots; however, this is the common one most people see when snorkelling on coral reefs and is often just called the 'Blue-spotted Ray'. The blue spots are are a bright electric blue and usually easily seen, even in murkier water. To distinguish this species, the blue extends along the thicker 'ribbon'-like tail in a line. These rays follow the incoming tide in groups to feed at night around shallow sandy areas. By day when we see them, they are usually trying to sleep, and are noticed because they tend not to bury themselves in the sand as much as many other rays. They are found in shallow water through the tropical Ind0-Pacific

Family Myliobatidae: Eagle Rays


Aetobatus narinari, 'Spotted Eagle Ray'.

Class Osteichthyes, 'Bony Fish'

This is the largest group of vertebrates in the world.

 Order Anguilliformes: Eels

Family Muraenidae: Moray Eels

Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo Reef

Gymnothorax thyrsoideus, 'Black-faced Moray Eel'. This eel is reported to be found in shallow more turbid waters around coral reefs, including wrecks. Widespread through tropical Indo-Pacific.

Order Clupeiformes

Family Clupeidae: Herrings, Sardines

(Panagsama, Philippines)

Herrings or 'sardines' often form huge schools.

Order Beloniformes
Family Hemiramphidae, Family Belonidae

Order Gasterosteiformes /  Syngnathiformes

Family Syngathidae

Family Aulostomidae: 'Trumpetfish'

There are three species of Trumpetfish in this family.

(Lady Musgrave, Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

Aulostomus chinensis, 'Trumpetfish'.

Family Fistulariidae: 'Cornetfish' or 'Flutemouths'

Four species, the one below is commonly seen around tropical reefs in Indo-Pacific.

(Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia)

Fistularia commersonii, ‘Bluespotted Cornetfish'. Very widespread throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific, and has even snuck into the Mediterranean from the Red Sea through the opening of the Suez Canal (probably because it so skinny).

Family Centriscidae

(Panagsama, Philippines)

Aeoliscus strigatus, 'Razorfish'. These distinctive fish have the unusual habit of hanging in the water upside down. While hunting or hiding they may adopt this position within the spines of Sea-Urchins or within Staghorn Coral.

Order Scorpaeniformes

Family Scorpaenidae

This family includes several dangerous species, including the "handsome, but deadly" lionfish and ugly, but still dangerous, stonefish

Pterois spp. 'Lionfish', 'Butterfly-cod'

(Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands)

The striking colours and stripes are considered warning signs, and indeed when one approaches these fish they don't swim quickly away, but just turn at an angle and spread their fins out. They are covered in a total of 18 poisonous spines. These defences can cause many symptoms in humans, including pain and vomiting, and in extreme cases paralysis and heart failure. Deaths in healthy adults are rare, but fatalities can occur with small children and the elderly. All dozen species are native to the coral reefs of the tropical Indo-Pacific, although two species P. volitans and P. miles has been introduced to other waters such as the Caribbean and Mediterranean, where they are considered pests, and much research is being conducted on them in these areas.

Order Perciformes

Family Serranidae: Groupers, Rock-cods, Anthias 

(Farquar, Seychelles)

Cephalopholis argus, 'Peacock Grouper', 'Argus Grouper'.

(Ribbon Reef Number 2, Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

Plectropomus leopardus'Coral Trout', 'Leopard Coral Trout', 'Blue-dotted Coral Grouper'. Can grow to 120 cm, although it is usually smaller. It is well regarded as a fish to catch and eat. Found underneath coral ledges throughout tropical Asia and Australasia. 

Subfamily Anthiadinae

(Mangalonga, Solomon Islands)

Anthias. This genus incudes some of the most delicately beautiful of coral reef fish. They are usually only seen on the drop offs and edges of fairly pristine coral reefs.

Family Apogonidae: Cardinalfish

Cardinalfish are usually small, often colourful. Because they are nocturnal they appear to have large eyes. But their most distinctive habit is 'hanging' motionless; this is done above inside coral heads, near jetties or mangrove roots.

cardinalfish-yellow-striped-samarai-png(Samarai, Papua New Guinea)

Ostorhinchus cyanosoma, 'Yellow/Orange/Golden-striped Cardinalfish'. Nocturnal, when it probably feeds on larval benthic crustacean plankton. Found across tropical Indo-Pacific.

cardinalfish-blue-eyed-wagefa(Wagefa, Papua New Guinea)

Ostorrhinchus compressus, 'Blue-eyed/Ochre-striped/Split-striped Cardinalfish'.

Family Echeneidae: Remoras

Family Carangidae

Includes the fast and predatory 'Trevally', known as 'Jacks' in the Americas.

(Farquhar Atoll, Seychelles)
(Farquhar Atoll, Seychelles)

Caranx ignobilis, 'Giant Trevally'. Large and fast silvery fish, with older males becoming coal black in colour.

(Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia)

Gnathanodon speciosus, 'Golden Trevally', 'Barred Trevally', being serviced by Cleaner Wrasse. Despite the first common name, they are only bright yellow when young, retaining the colour on the tips of fins and tail as they mature. And despite the second common name, the bars also fade as they age.

Family Terapontidae: 'Grunters'
Family Kuhliidae
Family Apogonidae: 'Cardinalfishes'

Family Haemulidae: 'Sweetlips', 'Grunts'

(Forbes Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

Plectorhinchus flavomaculatus, 'Goldspotted Sweetlips'.

(Panagsama, Philippines)

Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides, 'Many Spotted Sweetlips', 'Harlequin Sweetlips'. This is a juvenile pictured, and the juvenile of this species impersonates a toxic flatworm.

Family Lutjanidae: 'Tropical Snappers'

(Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

Lutjanus carponotatus, 'Spanish Flag Snapper', 'Stripey Snapper'. Usually have a dark spot at base of pectoral fins.

(Lakeside, Ningaloo, Western Australia)

Lutjanus fulviflamma, 'Black-spot Snapper'.

Lutjanus gibbus, ‘Red Humpback Snapper’, ‘Paddletail Snapper’.

Family Caesionidae: 'Fusiliers'

Sometimes considered a subfamily of the Snappers. Most species are blue, and hang out in schools feeding on plankton on the deeper edge of coral reefs

(Ribbon Reef Number Two, Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

Caesio teres, 'Yellow-tailed Fusilier', 'Blue and Gold Fusilier'. Throughout the tropical Indian and western Pacific Oceans.

 Family Lethrinidae 'Emperors'

Family Nemipteridae: 'Threadfin Breams'

monocle-bream-two-lined-stacks-ningaloo(Oyster Stacks, Ninglaoo, Western Australia)

Scolopsis bileneatus, 'Two-lined Monocle Bream'. A commonly seen fish of coral reefs across the Indian Ocean and western Pacific.

Family Mullidae, 'Goatfish'

Goatfish have barbels that hang down from their 'chin'.

(Aitutaki Fiji)

Mulloidichthys vanicolensis, 'Yellowfin Goatfish'.

(Miyako, Japan)

Parupeneus cyclostomus, 'Blue Goatfish', 'Gold-saddle Goatfish'. May carry ciguatuera toxin. Very widespread around coral reefs across tropical Indo-Pacific, from Red Sea, south to South Africa, north to japan and Hawaii.

Family Pempheridae: 'Sweepers' 'Bullseye'

'Bullseye' or 'Bigeyes' are small and unusually shaped fish with huge eyes. They feed by night on zooplankton, then during the day they usually rest in schools underneath coral ledges.

(Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo, Australia)

Pempheris tominagai, 'African Silver Sweeper'?. Found in north-west Australia, western Indonesia, across Indian Ocean, Red Sea and to east African coast. (This is replaced by similar looking 'Silver Sweeper' Pempheris schwenkii along the rest of Australian coast, through Indonesia and to tropical Pacific).

(Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo, Australia)

Pempheris molucca?

For the page on Family Pomacentridae, 'Damselfish' including Anemonefish

Family Scaridae: Parrotfish

(Bali Barat, Indonesia)

Scarus scaber, 'Dusky-capped Parrotfish', 'Five-saddle Parrotfish'. Found between Indonesia across the Indian Ocean to the east coast of Africa.

(Fitzroy Island, Queensland)

Scarus spinus, 'Yellow/Green-headed Parrotfish'. As suggested by the name, often has a bright yellow or lime green head that contrast with rest of body. Main body has blue-edged scales. Found around coral reefs in south-east Asia and northern Australia.

(Tangalooma Wrecks, Queensland)

Scarus ghobban, 'Blue-barred Parrotfish'. Neon blue vertical barring. Found around coral reefs widely across Indo-Pacific.

Family Labridae: Wrasse

wrasse-tripletail-turqouise-bay(Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo, Western Australia)

Cheilinus trilobatus, ‘Tripletail Wrasse’. Very variable in colour and pattern, and can change colour quickly when disturbed.

Thalassoma spp.

(Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo)

Thalassoma lutescens, 'Green Moon Wrasse', 'Blue-fin Wrasse', 'Yellow-brown Wrasse' and many other common names! Widespread and common on tropical coral reefs through Indo-Pacific. 

(Bali Barat NP, Indonesia)

Thalassomma hardwicke, 'Six-Banded/Sixbar Wrasse'. This one of the more commonly seen wrasse on tropical coral reefs.

(Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island, Queensland)

Thalasomma nigrofasciatum/jansenii, 'Black-barred/Jansen's Wrasse'. Two species of closely related Wrasse that look similar, and have recently been split. They seem to be more obvious in cooler water coral reefs. The latter species also occurs in Indian Ocean, while former does not, but both are recorded in the Pacific Ocean. Good luck trying to tell them apart. 

Halichoeres spp. 'Wrasse'

(Bali Barat, Indonesia)

Halichoeres melanurus, ‘Tail-spot Wrasse’, 'Hoevens Wrasse'. Found in tropical western Pacific, from Japan south to Great Barrier Reef.

Hemigymnus spp. 'Thicklip Wrasse'

Thick-lipped Wrasse (image by Damon Ramsey)(Lakeside, Ningaloo, Western Australia)

Hemigymnus fasciatus, 'Thick-lipped Wrasse'.

(Miyako, Japan)

Hemigymnus melapterus, 'Blackeye thicklip Wrasse', 'Half-half Wrasse'. Sifts though sand and then spits out, searching for invertebrates.

Coris spp. 'Clown Wrasse'

(Miyako, Japan)

Coris gaimard, 'Yellowtail Coris', 'African Coris', 'Clown Wrasse'. Usually has yellow tail, blue spots and green stripes on head. Terminal Phase/males have pinkish head and yellow bar on side. Females have reddish body. Juveniles have reddish body with white spots, almost like a clownfish. Widespread; found on coral reefs across much of tropical Indo-Pacific, north to Japan.

Epibulus spp.

(Ribbon Reef no.2, Great Barrier Reef)

Epibulus insidiator,'Slingjaw Wrasse'. Often noticed when it extends it's mouth, as it has the most extensive protrusible mouth of any fish.

Labroides spp. 'Cleaner Wrasse'

This small group includes four species of cigar shaped and sized fish that specialise in feeding on the ectoparasites of other fish. 

wrasse-cleaner-samarai(Samarai, Papua New Guinea)

Labroides dimidiatus, 'Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse'. This is the most commonly seen of the Cleaner Wrasse.

For the page on: Family Chaetodontidae, 'Butterflyfish'

Family Cheilodactylidae

This family is mostly found in the subtropical waters of the southern hemisphere.

Goniistius vestitus, 'Crested Morwong'. Found in subtropical coral reefs. Distinctive and strange 'humpback' shape, stripes, and red lips.

Family Pomacanthidae, 'Angelfish'

Like Butterflyfish, Angelfish are also rather plate-shaped. However, they are more squarish in profile. 

(Fitzroy Island, Queensland)

Pomacanthus sexstriatus, 'Sixband/Sixbar Angelfish'. Found in the central Indo-Pacific, from Sri Lanka, throughout south-east Asia north to Japan, across tropical Australia and east to New Caledonia.

(Fiji aquarium)

Pomacanthus semicirculatus, 'Semi-circled Angelfish'.

(Aitutaki Fiji)

Centropyge flavissima, 'Lemonpeel Angelfish'.

(Mangalonga, Solomons)

Centropyge bicolor, 'Bicoloured Angelfish'.

(Bali Barat NP, Indonesia)

Pygoplites diacanthus , 'Regal Angelfish'.

Order Acanthuriformes

Family Zanclidae

There is only one species in this family.

(Kakaban, Indonesia)

Zanclus cornutus, 'Moorish idol'.

Family Siganidae: 'Rabbitfish'

(Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island)

Siganus fuscescens'Black Rabbitfish'. This species often changes pattern and colour quite quickly when threatened (for example, seeing a snorkeler).

Family Acanthuridae: 'Surgeonfish'

(Aitutaki Fiji)

Zebrasoma veliferum, 'Sailfin Tang'.

(Miyaku, Japan)
(Aitutaki Fiji).

Acanthurus triostegus, 'Convict Tang'. Widespread throughout tropical Indo-Pacific.

Order Tetraodontiformes

Family Monacanthidae: 'Filefish'

leatherjacket-honeycomb-cantherines-pardalis-stacks-ningaloothe stacks, Ningaloo, W.A.

Cantherines pardalis, 'Honeycomb Leatherjacket'.

Family Balistidae: Triggerfish

(Bali Barat NP, Indonesia)

Melichthys vidua, 'Pink-tailed Triggerfish'.

(Miyako, Japan)

Balistoides viridescens, 'Titan Triggerfish'. Large; largest triggerfish in Indo-Pacific (there is a larger species in far eastern Pacific). During nesting season the females get very aggressive and may charge and bite. One of these large football-shaped fish racing towards you is one of the scariest things on the coral reef!

(Miyako, Japan)

Rhinecanthus rectangulus, 'Wedge-tail Triggerfish', 'Black-banded Triggerfish', 'Humuhumu'. This is one of the two fish in Hawaii known as Humuhumunukunnukuapua'a (triggerfish with snout like a pig) . It is the state fish of Hawaii. Found widely on coral reefs across the tropical Indo-Pacific.

Family Tetraodontidae

(Miyako Island, Japan)

Canthigaster valentini, 'Valentin's Sharpnose/Black Saddled Puffer/Toby'.

(Lakeside, Ningaloo, Western Australia)

Arothron manilensis, ‘Narrowline Puffer’.

Family Ostraciidae: Boxfish, Cowfish &Trunkfish


Ostracion meleagris, '(White) Spotted Boxfish'.

For a lecture on the behaviour of coral reef fish

Back to the page on Indo-Pacific Coral Reefs

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