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Creature feature: Hawkfishes

- By John Turnbull

Lyretail hawkfish Cyprinocirrhites polyactis - Stradbroke Island

Hawkfishes are a family of largely tropical fish that are associated with corals, and in sub-tropical regions with sponges and rocky outcrops. They are characterised by bright, mottled colouration, hairlike filaments on the tips of their dorsal spines and their habit of perching on coral heads. They can do this without harm (corals can be unpleasant for fish to perch on due to their chemical defenses and sometimes their sting) as hawkfish have no skin on their pectoral spines, so are somewhat immune to these defences.

Paracirrhites arcatus Ring-eyed hawkfish - Stradbroke Island

Like wrasse, many hawfishes are born female, and the dominant fish in an area changes to male. They prey on small fishes and crustaceans when they pass within striking distance. Whilst most hawkfish are benthic (live on the bottom), the lyretail hawkfish is often seen swimming among schools of similar looking fish like basslets, which it resembles in colour and shape. If you’re doing surveys, it pays to look carefully at these brightly coloured schools in case they harbour an interloper (like hula fish and the hit and run blenny!).

Falcon hawkfish - Stradbroke Island

On our recent trip to Stradbroke Island (where the diving was great!!) we recorded five species of hawkfish; freckled, falcon, blotched, ring-eye and lyretail. Anyone who has dived Lord Howe will know the brightly-coloured splendid hawkfish. Australia has several other species, but i don’t have pics of those!

Paracirrhites forsteri Freckled hawkfish - Stradbroke Island

Notocirrhitus splendens - Splendid hawkfish - Lord Howe Island

Cirrhitichthys aprinus - Blotched Hawkfish - Bare Island


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