Rabbitfish are a saltwater species belonging to the family Siganidae and order Perciformes. There are least 29 different species of rabbitfish, many falling under the genus Siganus. Five of the Siganus species used to belong in the genus Lo. Rabbitfish get their namesake from their small, hare-like mouths, large dark eyes and peaceful temperament. Sometimes they’re called spinefoots or foxface.
Rabbitfish can be found in shallow lagoons, reefs and tropical waters in general of the Indo-Pacific and eastern Mediterranean, from the Red Sea to Tahiti. They can be spotted at 30-100 ft depths. They need to live close to the shore or reefs for grazing. They are herbivorous, but have been known to nibble on some corals, tunicates, sponges and other sessile invertebrates. They are one of the few species that will also eat problematic Bryopsis algae.
At most, rabbitfish will grow to 30 cm in length. Many are olive or brown in color, but some stick out with brighter colors such as yellow. Foxfaced rabbitfish have prominent black stripes on their face. All rabbitfish have well developed, venomous dorsal and anal fin spines which they use for protection. The venom is a heat-labile protein, so their painful sting could be treated via heat exposure. They also possess a color changing form of camouflage, usually activated when sleeping or frightened. Their coloration, even if bright, fades and takes on a splotchy appearance, almost like military camo.
They are diurnal and hide in crevices of rocks during the night. Rabbitfish are very hardy and disease resistant. This coupled with their peaceful nature makes them favored by aquarists, despite their venomous spines. In captivity at least, they can live to be up to 8-12 years old. Rabbitfish are sometimes used as a source of food, but there does not appear to be any major conservation concerns regarding rabbitfish. Rabbitfish are not to be confused with the rabbit fish Chimaera monstrosa, which belongs to the family Chimaeridae.