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Home > Magazine > Nature and Science > Hawkfish – A Challenge For Underwater Photographers

Nature and Science

Published: 12/15/2007

Author: Fredy Brauchli

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Der Autor: Fredy Brauchli.


Langnasen-Büschelbarsch (Oxycirrhites typus). Shaab Sharm, Aegypten (Rotes Meer). Ist an strömungsreichen und tiefabfallenden Hängen anzutreffen.


Monokel-Büschelbarsch (Paracirrhites arcatus). Pandan (Occ. Mindoro), Philippinen. Lauert meistens auf Korallenköpfen.


Zwerg-Büschelbarsch (Cirrhitichthys falco). Pandan (Occ. Mindoro), Philippinen. Bevorzugt Korallenriffe als Lebensraum und passt sein Farbenkleid an.


Fadenflossen-Büschelbarsch (Cirrhitichthys aprinus). Negros, Philippinen. Kennzeichen: keine Flecken auf der Schwanzflosse.


Forsters Büschelbarsch (Paracirrhites forsteri). Zeichnung eines Tieres aus dem Rasdhoo Atoll, Malediven.


Gestreifter Korallenwächter (Paracirrhites forsteri). Dunkle Zeichnung eines Tieres aus dem südlichen Aegypten (Rotes Meer).

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Forster’s Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri). A species characterized by a dark pattern, originating from the South of Egypt (Red Sea)

Forster’s Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri). A species characterized by a dark pattern, originating from the South of Egypt (Red Sea)

Hawkfish – A Challenge For Underwater Photographers

Hawkfish (Cirrhitidae) – a precious gem in the coral reef easy to be observed, hawkfish, which attentively lurk in the reef, still represent a challenge for the underwater macro photographer.

With its 9 genera and 35 species, the family consists of small colorful fish that love to lie and wait quietly on exposed coral heads. This is why they are also known as “coral guards”. Almost motionless they wait for the prey to pass by supporting themselves on their strong pectoral fins. Due to their camouflage shading, which is perfectly adapted to their habitat, they almost ‘merge’ with the reef. But as soon as young fish, shrimps or small crabs pass by, the hawkfish dart out of their hiding place, taking their victims by surprise. Without being equipped with an air bladder, the reef inhabitants are bound to the ground, swimming hardly ever, and if they do, not more than short distances. Within their small territory, however, they love to change their waiting position frequently. The only exemption is the Swallowtail Hawkfish, which is less substrate-bound. On their search for food, they often travel together with anthiinae and are often mistaken for them.

Characteristic Fin Appendage (“Cirrhi”)

Hawkfish possess more or less developed trailing filaments at their dorsal spines, hence the name Cirrithidae, from the Latin “cirrus” meaning “fringe”. Due to their rather compact, elongated shape, most hawkfish look like dwarf groupers with the exception of Longnose Hawkfish, which are not typical of their family. With their slim body, the long stout and their tartan-like pattern, this species is particularly famous among divers. Their maximum size is 10 cm, and their habitat usually is in 25 to 100 meters depth. They prefer to stay in Gorgonian Corals and Black Corals.

Fascinating Sex Reversal

Hawkfish are generally not sexually dichromatic. According to present research, they are hermaphrodites initially and change to female when becoming sexually mature. If required by the circumstances, they can change their sex later. The males of some species form harems with several females and guard them with utmost attention. Under special conditions, Longnose Hawkfish may also live in the flatter areas of the reef and, from time to time, form pairs.

Variable Coloration

Hawkfish can adapt their shading to their favorite habitat or, in other words, to the color of their host coral. The great diversity of patterns within one and the same species makes it difficult to describe the individual species and, for us divers, to determine the species when spotting them. The fringe-like appendage at the dorsal spine that is typical of hawkfish is particularly prominent for Dwarf, Blotched, and Coral Hawkfish. The most attractive photos that diving photographers can take of hawkfish – provided they are able to approach silently, almost unnoticed - are against a dark background which best brings out the characteristic ‘fringe’. A lot of patience is required, however, before this prize can be won.