Get to Know Goatfish

With goatees and more than 50 species, there is a lot to learn about goatfish

What do goats and fish have in common? Well, not a whole lot—unless you were born between December 21 – January 20. Then, your astrological sign is Capricorn, which is symbolized by a mythological creature with the body of a goat and the lower body and tail of a fish. 

While we’re not here to talk about zodiac signs, we are here to take a deep dive and learn more about goatfish! 

Goatfish belong to the family Mullidae, which is made up of six genera and at least 65 species. Most goatfish species are around 12 inches or less in length, and the dash-and-dot goatfish (Parupeneus barberinus) is the largest-known species at a maximum of 24 inches. The elongated bodies of goatfish are accented by their forked tails.

Goatfish have two whisker-like sensory barbels on their chin that resemble a goatee (hence the name) and are used to dig into, or probe, the sand or poke into holes in reefs to detect prey. Goatfish typically consume worms, mollusks, crustaceans and other small invertebrates. The barbels contain chemosensory organs that help goatfish discover expertly camouflaged prey in the sand. Learn more about ocean animals with top-notch camouflage skills.

Not all goatfish species have the same daily habits. There are goatfish species that eat during the day and usually live by themselves (how lonely!), while there are other species that feed at night and spend their days relaxing in large schools, often with other species of fish. (As a social butterfly myself, I would probably prefer to be a night-feeding species.)

Goatfish are found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. They are typically found near reefs or on sandy bottoms in shallow ocean water, and most don’t travel deeper than 360 feet.

Many goatfish species are brightly colored, and all species are able to change their color rapidly to blend in with their surroundings and avoid predators. The mimic goatfish (Mulloidichthys mimicus) can actually mimic the blue-striped snapper, with which they are frequently found in schools. Remember the night-feeders who hang out with their friends during the day?

When it comes to reproduction, goatfish release buoyant eggs that are planktonic, meaning they drift with the ocean’s movement. They float until hatching, and the larvae drift freely for about four to eight weeks before they develop barbels and take to the sand to find food.

Goatfish are popular both to consume as a meal and to use as fishing bait. Ocean Conservancy is working hard with partners across the country to find practical solutions to the challenging problems our fisheries face and advance sustainable fisheries. Take action now to prepare U.S. fisheries for the impacts of climate change.

Browse Topics
Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
Read more
View Current Posts
Back to Top Up Arrow