Triggerfish – Various Species
This article is formatted differently than the others. Because the triggerfish consists of 12 genera (consisting of about 40 species), I will combine images and info per gender. There is too little information to devote a full article by gender.
Worth knowing about the Triggerfish
The Triggerfish belongs to the kingdom of animals, more specifically to the tribe Chordata. Here they are again subdivided into the class Actinopterygii (ray fins), underclass Neopterygii (new finned), infraclass Teleostei (bony fish), superorder Acanthopterygii (spiny fins), order of Tetraodontiformes (pufferfish), and family Balistidae (triggerfish).
The 12 groups have been discovered by different people and are listed under the respective species.
Triggerfish (Balistidae): Synonyms
Balistoides viridescens, Balistes viridiscens, Pseudobalistes viridiscens, Balistapusviridiscens, Balistoidesveridiscens, Balistes brasiliensis, Pachynathus nigromarginatus, Balistes nigromarginatus.
All congeners (genera) are discussed a little further down.
Triggerfish get their name from the unique dorsal fin that they can position upright by using their large dorsal spine. Its smaller secondary spine is used for this, which will support everything.
In this way, the predatory fish can hardly swallow the animal or get it out of small crevices.
When everything is safe again, they can activate their third spine, the “trigger” that brings everything back to normal.
- This animal likes to live on its own.
- Age: These fish live to be about 8 years old and some that live in captivity can live up to 20 years.
- Length: on average 20 – 50 cm. However, there are some triggerfish that can grow larger, such as the “Stone triggerfish”, which can easily reach 100 cm in length.
- Weight: 1.4 – 4.5 kg.
- Body: A unique oval shape.
- Most of these fish have beautiful colors and/or patterns, and markings.
- Large heads narrowing to a small mouth.
- Their eyes are close to the top of their heads, about a third of the length of the fish (from its mouth).
- Relatively small pectoral fins.
- The front dorsal fins are actually a series of spines.
- Small, strong jaws with a row of four teeth on each side. Their upper jaw contains an additional set of six plate-like teeth.
- Australia: Black-lipped triggerfish, Blue-finned triggerfish, Dotty trigger-fish, Dotty triggerfish, Giant triggerfish, Titan triggerfish
- China: 剥皮鱼, 斑点炮弹, 綠副鱗魨, 綠鱗魨
- Christmas I.: Titan triggerfish
- Comoros: Chebeja, N’tundu, Tchebeja, Troudou
- Denmark: Titanaftrækkerfisk
- Estonia: Hiid-balistoid, Hiid-oraselg
- Fiji: Cumu, Cumu qau, Triggerfish
- France: Baliste olivâtre
- Germany: Riesen-Drückerfish
- Guam: Mustache triggerfish, Titan triggerfish
- India: Palli, Rondu, പല്ലി
- Indonesia: Ampala biasa, Blue-finned triggerfish, Gomamongara, Hahu, Komparu watu, Lubiem, Lubien manok, Titan triggerfish
- Japan: Gomamongara
- Kiritabi: Te nuonuo, Te umufatu
- Malaysia: Ayam laut, Dotty triggerfish, Jebong, Jebong titan, Titan triggerfish
- Marshall Is.: Liele
- Mauritius: Baliste olivâtre, Bkue finned triggerfish, Bourse baroi
- Micronesia: Liuwesho, Mustache triggerfish, Titan triggerfish
- Mozambique: Porco ponteado
- New Caledonia: Baliste verdâtre, Cëmô, Cimöö, Phwa
- Niue: Moustache triggerfish
- Palau: Beab, Dukl
- Papua New Guinea: Blue-finned triggerfish, bluefinned triggerfish, Kaisep
- Phillippines: Ampapagot, Ampapakul, Dotty triggerfish, Hahu, Kapuul, Pakol, Papakol, Puggot, Pugot, Sangkay
- Samoa: Sumu-laulau, Umu
- Singapore: Titan triggerfish
- Solomon Is.: Kukupi, Titan triggerfish
- South Africa: Dotty triggerfish, Gestippelde snellervis
- Sri Lanka: Bluefin triggerfish
- Tahiti: ‘O’iri ‘utaro
- Taiwan: 褐擬鱗魨
- Tokelau: Umu
- Tonga: Hümu, Triggerfish
- UK: Dotty triggerfish
Gender Abalistes (D.S. Jordan & Seale, 1906)
There are 3 species:
- Hairfin triggerfish (Abalistes filamentosus)
- Starry triggerfish (Abalistes stellaris)
- Abalistes stellatus.
The second and third species were considered to be different (by 2 discoverers…), yet they are talking about a single species with the common name Starry triggerfish (Abalistes stellaris).
Hairfin triggerfish (Abalistes filamentosus) – (Matsuura & Yoshino, 2004)
Distribution: Indo-West Pacific: the Ryukyu Islands to the Northwest Shelf of Australia, and the Timor Sea. Reported in New Caledonia.
They are mainly found in the vicinity of the Ryuku Islands, as far as northwestern Australia, and the Timor Sea. They were also noticed in New Caledonia.
Distribution: Indo-West Pacific: the Red Sea and East Africa to Southeast Asia, north to Japan, and south to northern Australia. Eastern Atlantic: St. Helena and south coasts of Africa.
Inhabit coastal areas, usually found over muddy and sandy bottoms, also around reefs, together with the sponges and algae. Feed on benthic animals. Oviparous. Also caught with vertical long-lines. Marketed fresh and dried salted.
Gender Balistapus (Tilesius, 1820)
Orange-lined triggerfish (Balistapus undulatus) – (M.Park, 1797)
Other Names: Orange-lined Triggerfish, Orangestriped Triggerfish, Red-lined Triggerfish, Red-lined Trigger-fish, Striped Triggerfish, Striped Trigger-fish, Vermiculated Triggerfish
Distribution: Indo-Pacific: the Red Sea south to Natal, South Africa and east to the Line, Marquesan and Tuamoto islands, north to southern Japan, south to the southern Great Barrier Reef and New Caledonia.
Adults which are territorial occur in coral-rich areas of deep lagoon and seaward reefs from the lower surge zone to at least 50 meters. They feed on a variety of benthic organisms such as algae, echinoderms, fishes, mollusks, tunicates, sponges, and hydrozoans. Eggs are laid as one cluster in a shallow excavation on sand or rubble along channels. Marketed fresh and dried salted.
(source: Dianne J. Bray, Balistapus undulatus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 07 Nov 2021, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/760)
Gender Balistes (Linnaeus, 1758)
There are 7 species:
- Grey triggerfish (Balistes capriscus)
- Balistes ellioti
- Finescale triggerfish (Balistes polylepis)
- Bluespotted triggerfish (Balistes punctatus)
- Balistes rotundatus
- King/Queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula)
- Balistes willughbeii.
Grey triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) (J.F.Gmelin, 1789)
Distribution: Eastern Atlantic: the Mediterranean to Moçamedes, Angola. Western Atlantic: Nova Scotia (Canada), Bermuda, and the northern Gulf of Mexico to Argentina.
Inhabits bays, harbors, lagoons, and seaward reefs. May drift with young at surface among Sargassum. Usually solitary or in small groups. Feeds on benthic invertebrates like mollusks and crustaceans. Oviparous. Consumed mostly fresh, smoked, and dried salted. The flesh is of excellent quality. Because it is resistant to capture, it proliferates and competes for food with other species.
Balistes Ellioti (Day, 1889)
This fish has no official status.
Finescale Triggerfish (Balistes Polylepis) (Steindachner, 1876)
Distribution: Eastern Pacific: San Francisco, California, the USA to Callao, Peru, including the Galapagos Islands.
Occurs in rocky reefs, boulder-strewn slopes, and adjacent areas of sand. Adults demersal; young pelagic. Feeds on sea urchins, small crustaceans, and mollusks. Minimum depth 3m.
Bluespotted triggerfish (Balistes Punctatus) (J.F.Gmelin, 1789)
The blue-spotted triggerfish is known to not do well with other species within the same family when kept in an aquarium. If other specimens are in the tank with it, the aquarium should be large to avoid aggressive and malicious behavior. This species is not only naturally aggressive in its behavior, but it is also curious and known to explore. Another common name for the blue-spotted triggerfish is the Golden Heart Triggerfish.
Balistes rotundatus (Marion de Procé, 1822)
No image available for this species;
the drawing shows typical species in Balistidae.
Queen triggerfish(Balistes vetula) (Linnaeus, 1758)
Balistes vetula, the queen triggerfish or old wife, is a reef-dwelling triggerfish found in the Atlantic Ocean. It is occasionally caught as a gamefish and sometimes kept in very large marine aquaria.
Balistes willughbeii (Lay & Bennett, 1839)
No image available for this species;
the drawing shows typical species in Balistidae.
Gender Balistoides (Fraser-Brunner, 1935)
There are 2 species:
- Clown triggerfish or Bigspotted triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)
- Titan triggerfish, Giant triggerfish, and Moustache triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens).
Clown triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum) (Bloch & J.G.Schneider, 1801)
The clown triggerfish is a fish that grows up to 50 cm (19.7 inches). Its body has a stocky appearance, oval shape, and compressed laterally. The head is large and represents approximately one-third of the body’s length. Their mouth is small, terminal, and has strong teeth.
Titan triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens) (Bloch & J.G.Schneider, 1801)
The titan triggerfish is diurnal and solitary. It feeds on sea urchins, mollusks, crustaceans, tube worms, and coral. It often feeds by turning over rocks, stirring up sand, and biting off pieces of branching coral. This is why other smaller fish species are often seen around it, as they feed on the detritus and smaller organisms that are stirred up. Titan triggerfish have been observed being aggressive to other fish who enter their territory.
Gender Canthidermis (Swainson, 1839)
This genus is classified into 3 species:
- Largescale triggerfish (Canthidermis macrolepis)
- Rough triggerfish or Spotted Oceanic triggerfish (Canthidermis maculata)
- Canthidermis sufflamen.
Largescale triggerfish (Canthidermis Macrolepis) (Boulenger, 1888)
These dark-colored triggerfishes are found in all the world’s oceans in tropical and subtropical areas. They are absent in the Mediterranean. Unlike most triggerfish they are epipelagic.
Rough triggerfish (Canthidermis Maculata) (Bloch, 1786)
The maximum length for this species is 50 centimeters (20 in) but usually grows up to 35 centimeters (14 in). Adults and juveniles have different colorations. While the adults are a blue-grey color, the juveniles show a gray-black color with white spots, which blur the cover.. Adults may be seen with dark blotches appearing on the face and pectoral fins during mating.
Ocean triggerfish (Canthidermis Sufflamen) (Mitchill, 1815)
Unique Characters: Body brownish to gray. Large dark blotch at the pectoral-fin base. Dorsal and anal fins are broad and high.
Gender Melichthys (Swainson, 1839)
Here we have again subdivided into 3 species:
- Indian triggerfish or Black-finned triggerfish (Melichthys indicus)
- Black triggerfish or Black durgon (Melichthys niger)
- Pinktail triggerfish (Melichthys vidua)
Black durgon (Melichthys Niger) (Bloch, 1786)
A blimp-shaped triggerfish with bright white lines running along with its dorsal and anal fins. From distance, it appears to be completely black. Black durgons are capable of changing color based on their surroundings.
Pinktail Triggerfish (Melichthys Vidua) (J.Richardson, 1845)
Triggerfish such as the Pinktail Triggerfish are highly sought after in fish-only aquariums. A Pinktail Triggerfish is about 40 cm and is therefore certainly not suitable for smaller aquariums.
This fish is generally not aggressive towards other fish, but it is territorial, so do not place this fish with shy animals.
Gender Odonus (Gistel, 1848)
Redtoothed triggerfish (Odonus Niger) (Ruppell, 1836)
The mouth of the triggerfish seems to be grinning and it maintains tiny red teeth that are needle-sharp with two teeth in the upper jaw which can be seen when its mouth is closed. They have the ability to change their color depending on their mood, food, feeding, and water quality from purple to blue and to bluish-green.
Gender Pseudobalistes (Bleeker, 1865)
Again subdivided into 3 species:
- Yellowmargin triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus)
- Rippled triggerfish (Pseudobalistes fuscus)
- Stone triggerfish or Blunthead triggerfish (Pseudobalistes naufragium).
Yellowmargin triggerfish (Pseudobalistes Flavimarginatus) (Rüppell, 1829)
These triggerfish can grow to a maximum length of 60 cm (24 in). They are marketed either fresh or dried for food but are potentially dangerous in some areas due to ciguatera poisoning.
Rippled triggerfish( Pseudobalistes Fuscus) (Bloch & J.G.Schneider, 1801)
Pseudobalistes fuscus can reach a length of 55 centimeters (22 inches) in males. The body is mainly brown, but the fins have yellow margins. Juveniles are yellowish-brown with a network of brilliant bluish wavy lines. With growth these lines become interconnected.
This fish is known for its aggressiveness and many divers choose to stay away from them, as they bite often.
Stone triggerfish or Blunthead Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes Naufragium) (D.S.Jordan & Starks, 1895)
Found around reefs and over sandy bottoms of shallow waters. Feeds on sea urchins, small crustaceans, and mollusks, often blowing into the sand to uncover prey or turn over urchins.
Gender Rhinecanthus (Swainson, 1839)
Here again, we have a classification of 7 types:
- Deepwater triggerfish (Rhinecanthus abyssus)
- Picasso triggerfish, Lagoon triggerfish, Blackbar triggerfish, or Picassofish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus)
- Assasi triggerfish or Arabian picassofish (Rhinecanthus assasi)
- Rhinecanthus cinereus
- Halfmoon picassofish (Rhinecanthus lunula)
- The Reef, rectangular, or wedge-tail triggerfish (Rhinecanthus rectangulus)
- Blackbelly, or Blackpatch triggerfish (Rhinecanthus verrucosus)
Deepwater triggerfish (Rhinecanthus Abyssus) (Matsuura & Shiobara, 1989)
Living environment: Indonesia
Picasso Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus Aculeatus) (Linnaeus, 1758)
Also known as Lagoon triggerfish, Blackbar triggerfish, or Picassofish
Lagoon triggerfish live in the reefs and sandy areas of coral reefs, where they eat just about anything that comes along.
Arabian Picasso Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus Assasi) (Forsskål, 1775)
R. assasi mostly lives in or near coral reefs. It occurs in the western Indian Ocean, including the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Rhinecanthus Cinereus (Bonnaterre, 1788)
Western Indian Ocean: Reunion and Mauritius; new record from the Maldives.
Halfmoon Picassofish) (Rhinecanthus Lunula (Randall & Steene, 1983)
Also known as Cresent Triggerfish, Halfmoon Picassofish, Lunula Triggerfish
A rare species, R. lunula has a small geographic distribution. When first described as a species, R. lunula was only known to exist from the Pitcairn Islands to Queensland, Australia.
(sources: fishesofaustralia.net.au, and en.wikipedia.org)
Blackbelly, or Blackpatch triggerfish (Rhinecanthus Verrucosus) (Linnaeus, 1758)
Distribution: Indo-West Pacific: in tropical waters, from the Chagos Archipelago through Indonesia to the Solomon Islands, north to southern Japan, south to Vanuatu.
Gender Sufflamen (D.S. Jordan, 1916)
Consisting of 5 types:
- Bluethroat triggerfish (Sufflamen albicaudatum)
- Bursa, Scythe, or Boomerang triggerfish (Sufflamen bursa)
- Halfmoon triggerfish (Sufflamen chrysopterum)
- Masked triggerfish (Sufflamen fraenatum)
- Orangeside triggerfish (Sufflamen verres)
Bluethroat triggerfish (Sufflamen albicaudatum) (Rüppell, 1829)
- Distribution: Western Indian Ocean: the Red Sea to the Gulf of Oman.
- Inhabits open bottoms with scattered corals or rubble.
- Distribution: Indo-Pacific: East Africa to the Hawaiian, Marquesan, and Ducie islands, north to southern Japan, south to the southern Great Barrier Reef in Australia, New Caledonia, and Rapa.
- Inhabit clear inner and outer reef habitats from exposed algae reef flats to deep along drop-offs.
- Not to be confused with the Rhinecanthus lunula (Halfmoon picassofish)
- Inhabit coastal to outer reefs. Habitats from silty lagoons to pristine outer reef walls. Occur in shallow lagoon and seaward reefs. Solitary and territorial.
Masked triggerfish (Sufflamen fraenatum) (C.H.Gilbert & Starks, 1904)
- Distribution: Indo-Pacific: East Africa south to Natal, South Africa and east to the Hawaiian, Marquesas, and Tuamoto islands, north to southern Japan, south to Lord Howe Island.
- Inhabit coastal rocky reefs, often silty habitats and lagoons on the open sand. Solitary. Found over sand and rubble patches of seaward reefs.
Orangeside triggerfish (Sufflamen verres) (C.H.Gilbert & Starks, 1904)
- Distribution: Eastern Pacific: Cedros Island, Baja California, Mexico to Salinas, Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands.
- Common around rocky reefs and along continental coasts. Feeds on sea urchins, small crustaceans, and mollusks, often blowing into the sand to uncover prey or turn over urchins.
Gender Xanthichthys (Kaup, 1856)
Consisting of 6 types:
- Gilded triggerfish (Xanthichthys auromarginatus)
- Outrigger triggerfish or Blueline triggerfish (Xanthichthys caeruleolineatus)
- Greene’s or Kiri triggerfish (Xanthichthys greenei)
- Striped or Lined triggerfish (Xanthichthys lineopunctatus)
- Redtail or Crosshatch triggerfish (Xanthichthys mento)
- Sargassum triggerfish (Xanthichthys ringens)
Gilded triggerfish (Xanthichthys auromarginatus) (E.T.Bennett, 1832)
- Distribution: Indo-Pacific: East Africa to the Hawaiian Islands, north to the Ryukyus, south to Cocos-Keeling Atoll and New Caledonia.
- Occur in upper margins of current-swept seaward drop-offs and ledges. Current-prone and with rich invertebrate growth such as sea whips. Usually found at moderate depths over 20 meters and occur in small loose groups.
Outrigger or Blueline Triggerfish (Xanthichthys caeruleolineatus) (J.E. Randall, Matsuura & Zama, 1978)
Distribution: Indo-West Pacific: St. Brandon’s Shoal (western Indian Ocean) through Indonesia to the Tuamoto Islands, north to the Ryukyus.
Occurs in deep seaward reefs. One collection outside Micronesia was made at 15 m.
Greene’s or Kiri triggerfish (Xanthichthys greenei) (Pyle & Earle, 2013)
Distribution: Pacific Ocean: Kiribati (Line Islands).
This species is relatively abundant within its depth range, on coral rubble and holes adjacent to deeper drop-offs (below a thermocline) at several localities of the coasts of Kiritimati (Christmas Island). It has always been observed near the reef substratum, where it would seek shelter when approached.
Striped or Lined triggerfish (Xanthichthys lineopunctatus) (Hollard, 1854)
Distribution: Indo-West Pacific: East Africa south to Port Alfred, South Africa, and east to northwest Australia and the Ryukyu Islands. Recorded from Australia as Xanthichthys ringens.
A rare species that occurs in offshore reefs, often seen well above the bottom. Also taken by drive-in nets. Oviparous.
Distribution: Western Pacific: southern Japan and the Ryukyu, Izu, Marcus, Wake, and Hawaiian islands. Eastern Pacific: southern California, USA, and the Pitcairn, Easter, Revillagigedo, Clipperton, and the Galapagos Islands.
Found mainly around oceanic islands and near reefs along the continental coasts. Found in schools in seaward reefs above drop-offs. Benthopelagic. Feeds on zooplankton.
Sargassum triggerfish (Xanthichthys ringens) (Linnaeus, 1758)
Distribution: Western Atlantic: North Carolina, USA, and Bermuda to Brazil.
Inhabits seaward reef slopes, usually well below 30 m, wherein some places are among the most common fish. Young live among floating Sargassum. Solitary or in small groups. Feeds on crabs and sea urchins. Spawns in deep water.
Gender Xenobalistes (Matsuura, 1981)
Xenobalistes tumidipectoris (Matsuura, 1981)
No image available for this species;
the drawing shows typical species in Balistidae.
Where can you find the Triggerfish?
The Triggerfish can be found all over the world in the tropical and subtropical oceans. Most species reside in the Indo-Pacific. Many live in relatively shallow waters and like coral reefs.
An exception to this is the Oceanic Triggerfish which is pelagic. (which prefers to live in open waters and oceans and not close to the bottom).
Here and there I have added any comments about the habitats to the description of the various species.
Triggerfish: Their nutrition
The Triggerfish is an omnivore and likes to eat squid, mussels, shrimp, other fish, and other meats that carnivores like. They also like marine algae.
Here and there I have added any comments about their nutrition to the description of the various species.
How do these animals mate?
Spawning occurs on the basis of lunar cycles. Eggs can occur from 2-6 days before the full moon and 3-5 days before the new moon. This usually happens on days with high tide and around sunset.
The female and male look for a place for their eggs together. They do this by blowing water on a piece of sandy bottom that they find suitable. After this, they start rubbing their bellies together as if they are spawning. Eventually, the eggs appear and are spread on the sandy bottom and attached to the sand grains.
Triggerfish in the human diet
Before you plan to eat Triggerfish you should check whether the species you want to eat is safe because there are some specimens that are slightly toxic. The animals then have “ciguatera” and that is the poisonous substance that they ingest by eating fish that were already infected. This is not fatal, but it can make you seriously ill…
Fortunately, you can safely eat many other species because these animals have beautiful white meat with a sweet taste, just like crab meat (after the fish has been cooked). Of course, you can also bake, fry, or grill the fish.
They can also be eaten raw, which is why they are also very popular in Japan for sushi, sashimi, and ceviche.
So remember: Triggerfish are delicious, but avoid the larger ones that have already eaten smaller, toxic-containing fish.
How do you fish for Triggerfish?
Triggerfish are quite aggressive by nature and are therefore not easy to catch.
Since the animal has a very small mouth, you have to fish with a small hook because if the hook is too big, they just nibble the bait off the hook.
Like most bottom-dwelling fish, the triggerfish mainly swims around natural hard bottoms. They like ledges, corals, wrecks, and artificial reefs. These animals are practically not found in the coastal bays or passes, and coves. In many cases, they do occur close to the coast where they are easy prey for the local fishermen with smaller boats.
Enemies of the Triggerfish?
Predators of the Triggerfish are sharks, jacks, and grouper. They also become the prey of an occasional visitor such as a tuna or a marlin.
To date, there are still many of these animals and so they are not in danger of extinction.
This is where I come to the end of this article. I hope you found it interesting and of course any questions, additional information, comments, ambiguities, or untruths can always be left behind. Thanks in advance.