University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
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Hawkfish Information

Hawkfish belong to the family Cirrhitidae.  There are at least 33 different species of hawkfish, all of which live solely in marine waters.  They live in tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean.  Most species reside in the Indo-Pacific, while at least two species are recorded to have originated from the eastern and western Atlantic Ocean.  Depending on the species, they may be found in shallow water or at depths up to 100 feet.  Hawkfish live among rocks and coral.  In the Red Sea, a study on four color morphs of freckled hawkfish showed a preference for inhabiting reefs farther from shore and wave exposed reef zones.  These habitats consisted of both live and dead coral colonies.  The only other differences observed among the four types was distribution and abundance of the species based on depth.

Hawkfish generally have a continuous dorsal fin made up of 10 spines with an additional 11-17 soft rays.  The anal fin consists of 5-7 soft rays.  Their scales are ctenoid or cycloid.  The pectoral fins have elongated, unbranched lower rays.  They may look similar to scorpionfish, lionfish or rockfish, but they lack the prominent head spines of the scorpionfish family.  Beyond this, body forms differ among species.  They are very colorful with stripes, spots or blotches.  They may even have a mix of these pattern combinations.  Hawkfish are a small species that can grow up to 55 centimeters at most depending on the species. The diet of these carnivores consists of fish and crustaceans. The “hawk” portion of their name comes from their hunting tactics.  They will station themselves atop rocks and corals and dive down onto prey below.

Hawkfish may be shy and hide when sudden movements catch their eye, but they are also territorial.  They will chase after or charge other fish, including larger more passive fish.  They can dart fast and stop almost instantly.  They’ll even use their lower fins to almost walk along the bottom.  They are protogynous hermaphrodites with very few dominant males.  They spawn in the open ocean near the surface.  Hawkfish are colorful and intelligent, making them entertaining for humans to watch.  They’re also fairly resistant to diseases.  These factors make them a popular aquarium fish that adapts well to any tank, but their territorial nature should be kept in mind.  There appear to be very few or no species of hawkfish currently endangered.

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