Goat fish

There are about 40 species of Goatfish and they belong to the family Mullidae in the order Perciformes. The name Mullidae is derived from the Latin word mullus which means soft. The goatfish can grow up to 60cm long, though most that are seen are generally a lot smaller. It is sometimes referred to as red Mullet and was one of the most highly prized food fishes of the ancient Romans....

They have two well-separated dorsal fins and an elongated but solid body, covered in large scales. Their fins are pointed or angular and they have a forked tail. Quite a few are vibrantly coloured in shades of red and yellow and some can also change their colouring. The most obvious features of the goat fish are the pair of “goat’s whiskers” which are actually a pair of long, sensory barbells on their chin. These barbels are used to find the small, bottom-living invertebrates on which the fishes feed. When the Goatfish isn’t using the barbels they are held in a groove on the throat.

Here on Koh Tao we see the Indian Goatfish - Parupeneus indicus, also known as the yellow-spot goatfish. This is one of the most common and possibly the largest species of goat fish, growing up to 45cm. The Indian Goatfish can adopt a number of colour schemes but is generally greenish-white overall with a yellow blotch on each side and a black spot in front of the tail. The coloration may darken to reddish-brown along the back of the fish. They are usually found searching for food below the surface of the sand and due to its ability to unearth hidden food, often has an entourage of unrelated fish particularly members of the opportunistic Wrasse – Labridae family.

The Freckled Goatfish aka Bar-Tailed Goatfish - Upeneus tragula is another common type of goatfish found here and grows up to 30cm. It has a white to reddish brown body, covered with mottled dark spots and a dark red/brown stripe along the length of the body with yellow barbells. They get their name because of the dark markings on the upper and lower lobes on the caudal fin that actually look like bars.

The Cinnabar Goatfish –Parupeneus Heptacanthus can also be seen at deeper dive sites and has been sighted at Sail Rock. This is one of the shyer members of the family and is normally about 15cm long, though can reach a length of 35cm! They tend to be a light silver- grey colour with a yellowish tail and have lines of iridescent blue spots running along their body. They also have lines around their facial area and a small dark reddish –brown spot just below the first dorsal fin.

Goatfish work together to catch their dinner and when an individual chases its prey around a coral formation, others gather around to block escape routes. It’s quite a cool sight to witness...