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    What Does A Fish Look Like?

    One of the best things about fishwatching is the thrill of seeing so many different fishes together in one place. When snorkeling over a tropical coral reef you might see more than 50 different species . What makes fishwatching even more fun is that many of the fishes have completely different shapes, colors, and movements.

    Seargent Major
    Seargent Major

    If you were to close your eyes and think about what a fish looks like, it might appear to your mind’s-eye to be shaped something like this little fish known as a Sergeant Major. In fact, its shape is similar to the small perch or bream that live in freshwater streams near your home.

    Shortnose Batfish
    Shortnose Batfish

    Now take a look at this strange fish. It really is different from Sergeant Major. This is a species know as a Shortnose Batfish. Batfish seldom swim; instead, they live on the bottom. Boy, this little guy seems to be in a bad mood. Do you look like this when you are in a bad mood?


    This tiny, odd-looking fish is a seahorse. It is easy to see where they get their name. Seahorses seldom move about. Most of their time is spent with their long tails curled around branches.

    Longlure Frogfish
    Longlure Frogfish

    Frogfish look more like blobs than fish. If you look closely, you can just see the upturned mouth, tiny eye, and tail. Frogfish are shaped and colored like this so they look like the background. When they move to another location, their color will change to match the new background.

    Spotted Spoon Nose Snake Eel
    Spotted Spoon Nose Snake Eel

    Some fish look like other animals. This spotted spoon nose eel is really a fish, but appears to be a snake.

    Peacock Flounder
    Peacock Flounder

    This flounder looks like a fish that was stepped on. Flounder have both eyes on top of their flat heads. The eyes are up high and can turn all about so the fish can see in every direction.

    Eagle Ray
    Eagle Ray

    Beautiful Spotted Eagle Rays are large fish that use outstretched fins to swim through the water; much like birds use their wings to fly in the sky.

    Hammerhead Shark
    Hammerhead Shark

    Do you know what kind of fish this is? If you said shark, you are right. This shark has an odd-shaped head that gives it the name Hammerhead Shark.

    So, what are you going to say if a friend asks you what a fish looks like? Maybe you will answer that fish come in many different shapes, and some look very funny indeed. Now you can understand why fishwatchers have so much fun when they visit the ocean.

    What Do Fish Eat?

    When visiting a coral reef the first thing you notice is all the different fish. Not all of these fish live in the same area. Some swim in open water high above the reef top, others move about near the sand bottom; a few can be seen poking about coral heads.

    Why are the different fish in different places and what are they doing there? A simple answer is that they are either searching for their favorite food to eat, or they are hiding so they will not get eaten themselves. Fish that eat other animals are known as predators.

    Brown Chromis

    This group of small chromis hover high above the reef where water movement, called current, carries microscopic animals and plants known as plankton. These tiny bits of life are so small we cannot see them with our eyes, but the chromis can. As the plankton float by, the fish extend their mouths and suck the food in one at a time. Fishwatchers call the fish that feed this way plankton- pickers. Because plankton-pickers feed in the open, they have to be careful not to be eaten themselves. They are quick fish that stay close to the reef for protection. When a big predator fish comes near, they all instantly dart to small holes where they hide until the danger passes.


    This large grouper just caught a fish that wandered too far from its hiding place.


    Several fish-eating species do not hunt for a meal. Instead, these fish, known as ambush-predators, lie on the bottom, without moving, and change colors so they are hard to see. When a fish swims too close to this scorpionfish, it will open its great mouth, and instantly swallows the fish whole.

    Bar Jacks Hunting Grunts

    Another way fish protect themselves from being eaten is to stay close together in large groups, called schools. Fish such as grunts school during the day for protection. When a fish-eating species, such as the fast swimming Bar Jack in the center of the photograph, attacks the school of grunts, the jack has trouble keepin its eye on a single fish. However, if the predator can chase the a fish away from the school, it is easy to grab and eat.

    At night, when most fish-eating predators sleep, grunts become predators themselves. They swim out over the sand and hunt for little crabs and shrimp hiding in the sand.


    Many other fish also feed in the sand. This boxfish has learned to blow jets of water into the bottom to uncover food.

    Spanish Hogfish

    This Spanish Hogfish hunts for crabs and other invertebrates in the coral reef’s many nooks and crannies. It is happily eating a brittle star that it found under a rock.

    Parrotfish Eating Algae

    Parrotfish do not eat animals. Instead they eat small plant life, called algae, from rocks. Parrotfish get their name from the hard pointed mouths that looks like a parrot’s beak. They use this special mouth as a tool to scrape the plants from the rocks.

    predator – one that hunts other animals for food

    current – a flowing of water

    plankton – floating or weakly swimming animal or plant life, usually very small

    ambush – to wait in hiding for the purpose of attack

    school – a tightly packed group of fish that move together as a unit

    invertebrate – animal without backbone, such as: insects, worms, corals, etc.

    algae – plants that mainly live in water

    How Do Fish Stay Clean?

    It is hard to think of a fish being dirty. After all, they swim around in water all day long.

    So why aren’t they always clean? Just like you, fish also need a good cleaning nearly everyday. They don’t get dirty from playing in the yard, but do have tiny, tiny animals, known as parasites, living on their skin, scales and inside their mouths. If the parasites are not cleaned away, they quickly multiply until the fish becomes sick.

    When you are dirty, you head for the shower. When fish need cleaning, they head for the nearest cleaning station. Cleaning stations are places on the coral reef where special fish or shrimp, known as cleaners, live. Cleaners make their living by picking bacteria and dead skin off fish. Watching fish being cleaned at cleaning stations is another fun thing that fishwatchers do.

    Spanish Hogfish Cleaning Grunts
    Grunts getting cleaned by a spanish hogfish

    All of these little fish are waiting with mouths opened in hopes that the young, purple, and golden Spanish Hogfish will clean inside their mouths.

    Moray Being Cleaned
    Moray getting a good cleaning

    This moray is enjoying a good cleaning by a little cleaner goby busily at work on top of it’s head.

    Woman's Teeth Being Cleaned by a Shrimp
    Woman’s Teeth Being
    Cleaned by a Shrimp

    Now, this is really weird! A lovely young fishwatcher is having her teeth cleaned by a Scarlet Lady Cleaning Shrimp.