25 Unique Fish that Live in Coral Reefs (With Images)

Fish living in coral reefs

Marine fish species that live among coral reefs are known as coral reef fish.

They are often colorful, interesting to observe, and popular among aquarists.

Given below are fish that live in coral reefs.

1. Bigeye Trevally

Bigeye Trevally

The bigeye trevally, also known as the bigeye jack or great trevally, is a reef fish from the family Carangidae.

They inhabit the reef waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans.

These reef fish have a typical compressed, oblong body shape.

The top or dorsal side of the fish is slightly more convex than the bottom or the ventral side.

Young bigeye trevallies have a silvery-yellow to silvery-brown color, with five to six vertical bands on either side.

These bands disappear as they mature.

Their body color then changes to silvery-blue on top and whitish on the bottom.

2. Damselfish


Damselfish can be found worldwide in temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters.

Many damselfish found in the coral reefs are popular as marine aquarium pets.

There are about 250 damselfish species that are part of the family Pomacentridae.

They are small, tough, and easy to keep, so they’ve become a popular option for marine aquariums.

Most damselfish have bright colors that range from shades of blue and yellow to red, orange, black, and white.

3. Triggerfish


There are 40 species of triggerfish that are native to the coral reefs of the tropical and subtropical waters, with most species inhabiting the Indo-Pacific oceans.

They belong to the family Balistidae, and several species from this family are popular in the aquarium hobby.

Triggerfish are narrow and tall with compressed bodies.

Their heads are large, ending in a small but powerful-jawed mouth with teeth designed for crushing shells.

These fish often have bright-colored bodies marked with stripes or spots.

4. Goby


Gobies belong to the family Gobiidae, one of the largest fish families.

There are more than 2000 species that are part of this family.

These fish are found around the world in different habitats.

However, several gobies inhabit the shallow marine habitats, including the coral reefs and seagrass meadows.

Gobies are small to medium-sized fish. They have relatively large heads and tapering bodies.

Coral reefs host a large variety of fish species, including gobies.

Gobiids represent almost one-third of the total number of fish species.

5. Seahorse


A seahorse is a marine fish that belongs to the family Syngnathidae.

There are 46 seahorse fish species in the genus Hippocampus. Some species live in coral reefs.

These fish are known for their horse-like appearance. They have curved necks, long snouts, and distinctive trunks and tails.

Seahorses swim slowly, using their pectoral fins to move forward.

They use their pectoral fins to turn themselves and for steering.

6. Toadfish


Toadfish, also known as frogfish, belong to the family Batrachoididae.

These fish are found worldwide, and some inhabit coral reef habitats.

These fish are usually dull in color, with few exceptions, like those living on coral reefs might be brightly colored.

Toads are usually scaleless, and their eyes are usually high on their large heads.

They have big mouths with barbels and skin flaps.

7. Parrotfish


Parrotfish are marine fish belonging to the family Scaridae, which includes 90 different fish species.

These fish inhabit the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific oceans.

They have numerous teeth, which are closely spaced together on the outside of their jaws, forming a parrot’s beak.

These teeth help them to scrape the algae off rocks and corals.

Parrotfish development is complex and accompanied by several stages of change.

Most species are sequential hermaphrodites, starting as females and then changing to males.

8. Unicornfish


Unicornfish is a family of 20 species belonging to the genus Naso, part of the surgeonfish family, Acanthuridae.

Unicorns mainly live in shallow waters near reefs, coastal regions, and offshore drop-offs.

Some species of these fish have hornlike extensions on their foreheads, which gives them the name unicorn.

9. Rabbitfish


Rabbitfish, also known as spinefoots, belong to the family Siganidae.

They are commonly found in the shallow warm waters of the Indo-Pacific region.

These fish are diurnal and are active during the day.

They prefer to spend their night hiding or sleeping in the crevices of the coral reef.

There are 29 rabbitfish species in the genus Siganus.

Rabbitfish have laterally compressed, oval bodies, with some species having tube-like snouts.

10. Surgeonfish / Tang

Blue tang

Surgeonfish or tangs belong to the family Acanthuridae. These fish inhabit the coral reef systems of the warm tropical waters.

The distinguishing feature of these species is the existence of one or more scalpel-like scales on both sides of their caudal peduncle.

Surgeonfish are schooling fish that prefer to swim together in large shoals.

11. Marine Angelfish

Marine Angelfish

Marine angelfish belong to the family Pomacanthidae.

They are commonly found in the shallow coral reefs of the tropical Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans.

The marine angelfish family consists of 86 species within 7 genera. They are often confused with freshwater angelfish species.

Marine angelfish are bright in color with deep and laterally compressed bodies, for example, flame angelfish.

These fish are one of the most attractive fish that inhabit the coral reef system.

12. Butterflyfish


Butterflyfish belong to the family Chaetodontidae. These fish inhabit the warm waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans.

There are 129 species of butterflyfish in 12 different genera.

Most of these fish inhabit the reef ecosystems of the Indo-Pacific region.

The name butterflyfish refers to the brightly colored and strikingly patterned bodies of many of these fish species, ranging from black, white, blue, and red to orange and yellow.

13. Hawkfish


The hawkfish are marine species that belong to the family Cirrhitidae.

They are commonly found in the coral reefs of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions.

These fish have large heads with elongated bodies. Hawkfish usually live alone but sometimes pair up and share a single head.

Hawkfish are known for their bright colors, which makes them popular among aquarists.

They are also easy to keep and adapt well to captivity.

14. Wrasse


Wrasses are a large and diverse group of fish that belong to the family Labridae.

Most wrasses are commonly found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans.

There are more than 600 wrasse species in 81 different genera.

These fish are primarily found in shallow coral reefs and rocky coastlines, where they live close to the substrate.

Wrasses have protractile mouth parts, usually with separate jaws that protrude outward.

Some species can be identified by their thick lips, which fold inward.

Most wrasse fishes are protogynous hermaphrodites, which means individuals in a popu­lation change gender from functional females into functional males at some point in their lives.

15. Scorpionfish


Scorpionfish belong to the family Scorpaenidae. They are primarily marine fish, including the world’s most venomous fish.

These fish are mainly found in the coral reefs of the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Although, some species of scorpionfish also inhabit brackish waters.

These fish have compressed bodies with ridges and spines on their head.

They usually have a single dorsal fin containing 11 to 17 spines and an anal fin with 1 to 3 spines.

16. Snapper


Snappers are mainly marine fish in the family of Lutjanidae.

There are commonly found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world.

Most snappers live in the shallow coral reefs of the oceans. However, some species are also found at greater depths.

The bluestripe snapper is of commercial importance and is also found in the aquarium trade.

Snappers are moderately long, with the dorsal portion of the head steeply angled, having a well-defined preopercular notch and knob.

17. Goatfish


Goatfish are marine fish species that belong to the family Mullidae.

They are found in different habitats of tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters.

There are 86 species of goatfish in 6 different genera.

Most tropical goatfish inhabit the shallow waters of the coral reef ecosystem.

Goatfish are benthic feeder fish that use two long chemosensory whiskers to sense prey hidden in the sediment.

Goatfish can adopt a pale color when they rest on the sandy bottom to blend into their surroundings and become less visible to potential predators.

18. Grouper


Groupers are fish that belong to the family Serranidae.

They usually live in warm tropical and subtropical waters; most grouper species are found in coral reefs.

A grouper is a type of fish, usually having a stout body and large mouth.

They are not made for long-distance and high-speed swimming.

Most groupers are protogynous hermaphroditic, meaning they mature only as female fish and have the ability to change their gender after they mature.

19. Dottyback


Dottybacks are marine fish that belong to the family Pseudochromidae.

These fish inhabits the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific region.

There are around 152 species in the dottyback family.

Many of these brightly colored fish are often seen in the marine aquarium trade.

Dottybacks are distinguished from other fish species by the presence of up to three spines on their dorsal fins and an incomplete lateral line organ.

20. Pufferfish


Pufferfish, also known as blowfish, fugu, swellfish, and globefish, belong to the family Tetraodontidae.

Most pufferfish species inhabit tropical and subtropical waters, including coral reefs.

However, some live in brackish and freshwater.

These fish are known as pufferfish because of their ability to inflate themselves by drinking water about twice their usual size when threatened.

Once these fish inflate, they can move at only about half their usual speed.

21. Barracuda

Great Barracuda

The barracuda or cuda is a ferocious saltwater fish that belongs to the family Sphyraenidae.

It’s found worldwide in tropical and subtropical oceans.

Barracudas live near the ocean’s surface, coral reefs, and seagrass beds.

They are snake-like in shape, with prominent, sharp-edged, fang-like teeth.

Their teeth are of different sizes in the sockets of their large mouths.

Barracudas usually appear dark grey, dark green, white, or blue on their upper body.

They have silvery sides and a chalk-white belly.

22. Clownfish


Clownfish belong to the family Pomacentridae. They are found in warm waters throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Clownfish vary in color from yellow to red or black, and some may be speckled with white bars or spots.

These fish live at the bottom of shallower waters in sheltered reefs or lagoons.

Clownfish and sea anemones have a mutually beneficial relationship, where both benefit from each other.

The clownfish protect the anemones from parasites and predators.

In return, the sea anemones provide them with food and shelter from predatory fish.

23. Stonefish

Image of stonefish

Stonefish are primarily marine species that belong to the family Scorpaenidae.

They inhabit the warm coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific oceans.

Most stonefish species inhabit the coral reefs of the tropical Indian and Pacific oceans. Some are known to live in freshwater.

The name stonefish is derived from their grey and mottled camouflage that resembles the color of a stone.

Stonefish are venomous and fatal to humans.

They are the most venomous fish discovered till now. Their stings are painful and potentially lethal.

24. Trunkfish


Trunkfish are saltwater fish that belong to the family Ostraciidae. They are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans.

There are 23 fish species in 6 genera of trunkfish. These fish inhabit coral reef ecosystems around the world.

Members of this group come in various color shades and are notable for having hexagonal or honeycomb patterns on their skin.

Members of this family can secrete cationic surfactants through their skin which can act as a chemical defense strategy against predators.

25. Moray Eel

Moray Eel

Moray eels are fish species that belong to the family Muraenidae.

They are found worldwide, with most species living in tropical and subtropical environments.

There are around 200 species in 15 genera that exclusively inhabit marine environments.

Some species are found in brackish and freshwater habitats.

Moray eels are found in tropical and temperate waters but prefer warmer water to cold water.

So most species live near coral reef habitats.

These fish usually have patterned bodies. Some species have patterns on the insides of their mouths too.

Their jaws are broad, and most eels have large teeth that can efficiently tear flesh or hold slippery prey.

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