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Red Sea Fish

Red sea Lion fish

Any attempt to describe the marine life of the Red Sea risks drowning in superlatives--it is extraordinary, unparalleled, marvellous, incredible, and truly wondrous. It was not by chance that Jacques Cousteau chose this region to first introduce the world to undersea life, and by the same token it is not by chance that so many people become diving fanatics during a visit to Sinai.


The exceptional richness of marine life in the Red Sea, and in the Gulf of Aqaba in particular, is due to an unusual combination of environmental factors. First, the Red Sea is comparatively sheltered and calm: its currents are gentle and regular, its tides almost non-existent, and its temperature warm and steady. While its waters run quite deep, they are warmed by volcanic heat emanating from the sea bed. The result of all these factors is an environment ideally suited to the complex and delicate ecosystem of coral reefs.

There are over 1,000 species of fish found in the Ras Mohamed area. Statistically speaking, there are more fish found in the Northern Red Sea per square meter than anywhere else in the world. Ranging from the minuscule to the 6 meter long. They all congregate at Ras Mohamed to benefit from the nutrient waters brought by the currents throughout the year. The Ras Mohamed region, although a spectacle all year round, is particularly crowded by its gilled inhabitants during the summer months. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

Red Sea Angel Fish

Marine angelfishes are a type of perciform fish of the family Pomacanthidae. Found on shallow reefs, the family contains seven genera and approximately 86 species. With their vibrant colours and deep, laterally compressed bodies, marine angelfishes are some of the more conspicuous residents of the reef. They most closely resemble the butterflyfishes, a related family of similarly showy reef fish. Marine angelfish are distinguished from butterflyfish by the presence of strong preopercle spines (part of the gill covers) in the former. This feature also explains the family name Pomacanthidae; from the Greek poma meaning "cover" and akantha meaning "thorn".

Many species of marine angelfishes have streamer-like extensions of the soft dorsal and anal fins. The fish have small mouths, relatively large pectoral fins and rounded to lunate tail fins. The largest species, the gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus) may reach a length of 60 centimetres; at the other extreme, members of the genus Centropyge do not exceed 15 centimetres. A length of 20-30 centimetres is average for the rest of the family. The smaller species are popular amongst aquarists, whereas the largest species are occasionally sought as a food fish; however, there have been reports of ciguatera poisoning as a result of eating marine angelfish.

The larger species are also quite bold and seemingly fearless; they are known to approach divers. While the majority adapt easily to captive life, some are specialist feeders which are difficult to maintain. Feeding habits can be strictly defined through genus, with Genicanthus species feeding on zooplankton and Centropyge preferring filamentous algae. Other species focus on sessile benthic invertebrates; sponges, tunicates, bryozoans, and hydroids are staples.

Most marine angelfishes restrict themselves to the shallows of the reef, seldom venturing deeper than 50 metres. The recently described Centropyge abei is known to inhabit depths of 150 meters. They are diurnal animals, hiding amongst the nooks and crevices of the reef by night. Some species are solitary in nature and form highly territorial mated pairs; others form harems with a single male dominant over several females. As juveniles, some species may eke out a living as cleaner fish. Common to many species is a dramatic shift in coloration associated with maturity. For example, young male ornate angelfish (Genicanthus bellus) have broad, black bands and are indistinguishable from females; as they mature, bright orange bands develop on the flanks and back.

Thought to correspond to social rank, these colour shifts are not necessarily confined to males; all marine angelfish species are known to be protogynous hermaphrodites. This means that if the dominant male of a harem is removed, a female will turn into a functional male.

As pelagic spawners, marine angelfishes release many tiny buoyant eggs into the water which then become part of the plankton. The eggs float freely with the currents until hatching, a high number falling victim to planktonic feeders.

Red Sea Black Spotted Sweet Lips

There are easily recognizable, they have thick lips, yellow tail and back and back spots. They are rather shy and not so easy to photograph. They grow up to about 45cm. They feed at night on bottom-dwelling invertebrates. The juveniles of Black spotted sweetlips have 6 black lines on their heads and bodies, these become spots with age. Other names include Rubberlips, Grunts.
different types of mix colored red sea fish

Red Sea Masked Butterfly Fish

The butterfly fish are a group of conspicuous tropical marine fish of the family Chaetodontidae. Found mostly on the reefs of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, butterfly fish are fairly small, most from 12-22 centimeters in length.

The largest species, the lined butterfly fish (Chaetodon lineolatus) grows to 30 cm. There are approximately 127 species in eleven genera. They should not be confused with the freshwater butterfly fish of the family Pantodontidae.

Butterfly fish are named for their brightly colored and strikingly patterned bodies in shades of black, white, blue, red, orange and yellow (though some species are dull in color). Many have eyespots on their flanks and dark bands across their eyes, not unlike the patterns seen on butterfly wings. Their deep, laterally compressed bodies are easily noticed through the profusion of reef life, leading most to believe the conspicuous coloration of butterfly fish is intended for interspecies communication. Butterfly fish have uninterrupted dorsal fins with tail fins that may be rounded or truncated, but are never forked.

The family name Chaetodontidae derives from the Greek words chaite meaning "hair" and odontos meaning "tooth." This is an allusion to the rows of brush-like teeth found in their small, protrusile mouths. Butterfly fish closely resemble the Angelfish of the family Pomacanthidae but are distinguished from the latter by their lack of preopercle spines (part of the gill covers).

Their coloration also makes butterfly fish popular in the aquariums hobby. However, most species feed on coral polyps (corallivores) and sea anemones; this poses a problem in most reef tanks where a delicate balance is to be maintained. Species kept in the hobby are therefore the few generalists and specialist zooplankton feeders. Generally diurnal and frequenting shallow waters of less than 18 meters (some species found to 180 metres), butterfly fish stick to particular home ranges. The corallivores are especially territorial, forming mated pairs and staking claim to their own head of coral. Contrastingly, the zooplankton feeders will form large conspecific groups. By night butterfly fish hide amongst the crevices of the reef and exhibit markedly different coloration than they do by day.

Butterfly fish are pelagic spawner; that is, they release many buoyant eggs into the water which then become part of the plankton, floating with the currents until hatching. The fry go through what is known as a tholichthys stage, wherein the body of the postlarval fish is covered in large bony plates extending from the head. This curious armored stage is seen in only one other family of fish; the Scatophagidae (scats). The fish lose their bony plates as they mature.

There are easily recognizable, they have thick lips, yellow tail and back and back spots. They are rather shy and not so easy to photograph. They grow up to about 45cm. They feed at night on bottom-dwelling invertebrates. The juveniles of Black spotted sweetlips have 6 black lines on their heads and bodies, these become spots with age. Other names include Rubberlips, Grunts.

Red Sea Coral Grouper

Groupers are fish of any of a number of genera in the subfamily Epinephelinae of the family Serranidae, in the order Perciformes. Not all serranids are called groupers; the family also includes the sea basses. The common name grouper is usually given to fish in one of two large genera: Epinephelus and Mycteroperca. In addition, the species classifed in the small genera Anyperidon, Cromileptes, Dermatolepis, Gracila, Saloptia and Triso are also called groupers. Fish classified in the genus Plectropomus are referred to as coral groupers. These genera are all classified in the subfamily Epiphelinae. However, some of the hamlets (genus Alphestes), the hinds (genus Cephalopholis), the lyretails (genus Variola) and some other small genera (Gonioplectrus, Niphon, Paranthias) are also in this subfamily, and occasional species in other serranid genera have common names involving the word "grouper". Nonetheless, the word "groupers" on its own is usually taken as meaning the subfamily Epinephelinae.

The word "grouper" comes from Portuguese "garoupa", and not from the English word group.

Groupers are teleosts, typically having a stout body and a large mouth. They are not built for long-distance fast swimming. They can be quite large, and lengths over a meter and weights up to 100 kg are not uncommon, though obviously in such a large group species vary considerably. They swallow prey rather than biting pieces off it. They do not have much tooth on the edges of their jaws, but they have heavy crushing tooth plates inside the pharynx. They habitually eat fish, octopus, crab and lobster. They lie in wait, rather than chasing in open water. According to the film-maker Graham Ferreira, there is at least one record, from Mozambique, of a human being killed by one of these fish.

Their mouth and gills form a powerful sucking system that sucks their prey in from a distance. They also use their mouth to dig into sand in order to form their shelters under big rocks, jetting it out through their gills. Their gill muscles are so poweful, that it is impossible to pull them out of their cave if they feel attacked and extend them in order to lock themselves in.

Most fish spawn between May and August. They are protogynous hermaphrodite, i.e. the young are predominantly female but transform into males as they grow larger. They grow about a kilo per year. Generally they are adolescent until they reach three kilos, when they become female. At about 10 to 12 kilos they turn to male. Usually, males have a harem of three to fifteen females in the broader region. In the rare case that no male exists closeby, the largest female turns faster. Most males look much wilder and bigger than females, even if they happen to be smaller (compare bull to cow, or rooster to chicken, or lion to lioness).

Many groupers are important food fish, and some of them are now farmed. Unlike most other fish species which are chilled or frozen, groupers are generally sold alive in markets. Any species are popular fish for sea-angling. Some species are small enough to be kept in aquaria, though even the small species are inclined to grow rapidly.

The species Epinephelus lanceolatus can grow very large: there have been reports of them growing big enough to swallow a human bather or even a scuba diver: for example, Arthur C. Clarke wrote that while scuba diving in an inlet on the coast of Sri Lanka he saw a grouper about 20 feet long, and 4 feet thick side to side, living in a sunken floating dock. Swallowing an ordinary open-circuit scuba diver would need a throat that can expand to about 2 feet square. It could be that Epinephelus lanceolatus does not grow that big more often because it needs a big enough shelter to hide from attack by sharks or seals, and that the situation may change if the current worldwide decimation of sharks for the shark fin trade continues. (There has been a report that the killing of sharks is leading to an increase in the number of groupers and thus a decline in the numbers of parrot fish and thus more algae overgrowing the coral reefs.)

Red Sea Barracuda

The barracuda feeds on a wide variety of fishes. It frequently drifts just below the surface and is known to approach divers at very close range. It has a longer lower jaw and some very fierce looking teeth, Attacks on divers are very rare but have been reported in cloudy water and when the victim is wearing bright diving gear. Juvenile barracuda are normally in shoals, adults are usually solitary or in pairs. They can grow to about 190cm.

Red Sea Blue Spotted Ray

Like all stingrays they have venomous spines at the base of the tail. They are usually found lying on sandy bottoms, under an overhang and they frequently flick sand over themselves as camouflage. They feed on molluscs and crabs and can occasionally be seen digging up the sand. Their pectoral fins are like wings that enable the fish to 'fly' through the water. Females can produce a litter of up to 7 young. An adult may grow to about 100cm across. They breathe by drawing water through a small hole behind the eye and expelling it through gill slits on their undersides.

Red Sea Clown Fish

Clown fish are native to wide ranges of the warm waters of the Pacific; some species ranges overlap others. Clown fish are not found in the Atlantic Ocean. Clown fish live in a mutual relationship with sea anemones, or in some case settle in some varieties of soft corals, or large polyp stony corals. Once an anemone or coral has been adopted, the clown fish will defend it vigorously.

However, clown fish in an aquarium environment can exist very well without an anemone (this may be advisable as most anemones are extremely difficult to keep alive even for experienced aquarists). The anemone is required in nature because reef life is dangerous for small, brightly colored fish with very poor swimming abilities; in an aquarium lacking predators it is not needed. For this reason, clown fish never stray far from their host. In an aquarium, where they don't have to forage for food, it is very common for clown fish to remain within 6–12 inches of their host for an entire lifetime.

Clown fish and Damsel fish are the only species of fish which can avoid the potent stings of an anemone. There are several theories for how this avoidance is accomplished. Firstly, the slime coating of the fish may be based on sugar rather than proteins so anemones fail to recognize the fish as food and do not fire their nematocysts, or sting organelles.

Secondly, the mucous coating may mimic the anemone's own coating, a theory that is bolstered by the fact that it takes several days for a clown fish to adapt to a new species of anemone. There is no adaptation period when a clown fish is moved to another anemone of the same species.

Thirdly, their unique movements, which are unlike any other fish, may let the anemone know that they are not food. This theory is bolstered by the fact that juvenile Clown fish, which have no coating, will immediately seek refuge in any compatible anemone and will not be stung. Juvenile clown fish will not survive for long without the protection of an anemone, and few find one before being eaten.

Not all anemones make suitable hosts—many sting and eat clown fish. Also, particular species of clown fish will only use particular species of host anemones in nature. In captivity, certain clown fish species will adapt to certain other anemone species, but not many.

Red Sea Hawk Fish

Hawk fish, sometimes referred to as sentry fish, don't get involved much in the busy reef life, they like to be on the periphery, relaxed and distant, almost bored as they lie motionless. But like hawks they are just waiting until the time is right to strike.

These are great for photography as they just lie there, presumably waiting to ambush their prey. They can grow to about 12cm and sometimes referred to as Freckled Hawkfish. This little fellow is only about 13cm long. It waits, ready to dart out and grab any small crustacean or small fish. Inhabits steep outer reef slopes exposed to strong currents where it lives in large gorgonians and black corals. They are quite hard to find but can grow up to 5 inches.

Easily recognised by its freckled head. Typically it will just wait until the very last moment before it darts off to perch elsewhere.

Red Sea Manta Rays

Gant manta (Manta birostris), is the largest of the rays, with the largest known specimen having been nearly 7.6 meters (25 ft) across its pectoral fins (or "wings") and weighed in at 3,000 kg (6,600 lb). It ranges throughout the tropical seas of the world, typically around coral reefs.

Red Sea Pennant fish

Pennant fish can grow to about 20cm long and they can be found in the warm waters of many oceans in the world. When they are small they usually live alone and may sometimes pick on parasites on the epidermis of other fish, but when they grow up they tend to live in couples and feed on plants. Also called Bannerfish.
Scorpion fish

Red Sea Scorpion Fish

This little fellow was about 25cm long and not as well disguised as usual, hence the photograph. Notice how their outline is broken up with these ragged leafy edges. Although not as venomous as the stone fish, divers still need to keep their distance from their spines on their back. Great for photographers as they are motionless and unafraid of cameras.

Stone Fish

You will be stumbled on this incredible fish by accident, whilst looking at something else there was some fast movement out of the corner of my eye. So good is their camouflage that we were afraid to take our eyes off it or even blink in case we lost sight of it. It was totally still but after a little bit of very gentle agitation it walked, yes walked, on its pectoral fins for a few clumsy steps then sat almost invisibly again on the sea bed. You should keep your distance, mindful that the spines on its back carry some of the most venomous poison in the sea. This one was about 10 inches long.

Red Sea Sergeant Major

The Sergeant Major or píntano (Abudefduf saxatilis, family Pomacentridae) is a large, colorful damsel fish. It earns its name from its brightly striped sides, which are reminiscent of the insignia of a military Sergeant Major. It grows to a length of about 15cm (6 inches).

The fish feed upon the larvae of invertebrates, zooplankton, smaller fishes, crustaceans and various species of algae. They are preyed upon by some members of the Labridae and Serranidae families. They lay their eggs in patches of algae and guard them vigorously until they hatch.

Sergeant majors are found throughout the tropical reaches of the Atlantic, including off the south coast of the United States, Central America, eastern South America and western Africa. They are often found on coral reefs at depths of between 1 and 12 meters.

Red Sea Puffer Fish

Puffer fish have the ability to puff themselves up when they are threatened or attacked. They do this by pumping water into a stretchable area of the stomach, resulting in a massive increase in their size. In doing this they loose their mobility and speed but become very difficult to eat.

Their flesh is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, but they contain a powerful toxin and are generally considered poisonous to eat. Giant Puffer Fish is about a metre long and seemed to move slowly and deliberately, about 6 inches from the sea bed. They are generally solitary and feed, like all puffers, on crustaceans and echinoderms. They can grow up to about Masked Puffer Fish actually sleeps at night using a coral as his 'bed'. While sleeping their skin colour gets darker and the mask becomes invisible. They can grow to about 30cm, this one was about 25, Cute or what!
Red Sea Parrot Fish

Red Sea Parrot Fish

Parrotfishes are perciform marine fish of the family Scaridae. Abundant on shallow reefs of the Red Sea, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, the parrotfish family contains ten genera and about 90 species.

Parrot fishes are named for their oral dentition: their numerous teeth are arranged in a tightly packed mosaic on the external surface of the jaw bones, forming a parrot-like beak which is used to rasp algae from coral and other rocky substrates.

Many species are also brightly coloured in shades of blue, green, red and yellow, but are not especially popular in aquaria. Although they are considered to be herbivores, parrotfish eat a wide variety of organisms that live on coral reefs. Some species, for example Bolbometopon muricatum may include corals (polyps) in their diet. Their feeding activity is important for the production and distribution of coral sands in the reef biome and can prevent algae from choking coral. The teeth grow continuously, making it hard to curb overgrowth in the aquarium. Ingested during feeding, coral rock is ground up by the pharyngeal teeth.

Maximum sizes vary widely within the family, from 20 cm (TL) in the smallest species, such as the green parrotfish (Leptoscarus viagiensis) to 1.5 m (TL) in the largest species, Bolbometopon muricatum. A commercial fishery exists for some of the larger tropical species. Their bodies are deep, with large, thick cycloid scales, large pectoral fins and homocercal tail fins. The pectorals are the parrotfish's primary means of locomotion, the tail only used when speed is required.

Parrotfishes are diurnal and stay within shallow waters of no more than about 70 meters in depth. By night they cram themselves into crevices, some species secreting a thick coat of mucus as a sort of sleeping bag. The mucus is thought to mask their scent from nocturnal predators and may serve to protect the fish from infection by parasites.

The development of parrotfishes is complex and accompanied by a series of changes in coloration termed polychromatism. For most species, adult males and females have different colours, the females usually displaying drab tones of green, brown or grey, and the males vivid, conspicuous colours. In the mediterranean parrotfish (Sparisoma cretense), it is the females that have vivid coloration with the males being drab grey. In most species, the juveniles have a different colour pattern than the adults and some tropical species this juvenile coloration can be altered temporarily to mimic the appearance of other species. As the juveniles mature they enter what is termed the initial phase coloration during which they may change colour and sex. For most species, initial phase fishes are usually males that have the beginnings of the adult male coloration. However, initial phase fishes may include sexually mature females. The high variability in coloration of parrotfish has led to the different phases of many species being erroneously classified as different species in the past. Coloration is highly variable even among members of the same species. This "identity crisis" is shared by their close relatives, the wrasses of the family Labridae.

Known as the "ruminants of the sea," grazing parrotfish of most tropical species form large schools grouped by size. Harems of several females presided over by a single male are the norm in other species, the males vigorously defending their status at any challenge. Curiously, if the dominant male of a harem is removed, one of the females will change sex and adopt the terminal male coloration. Parrotfish are pelagic spawners; that is, they release many tiny buoyant eggs into the water which become part of the plankton. The eggs float freely, settling into the substrate until hatching.

Red Sea Lion Fish

The lion-fish belongs to the Scorpion fish family. This brightly coloured and graceful fish is usually found in coral reefs, especially in shallow waters hovering in caves or near crevices. It can move incredible fast in order to catch its prey. The fish have elongated dorsal fin spines and enlarged pectoral fins, and each species has a particular pattern of stripes. An average adult is about 14 inches long. Lion-fish have venomous fin spines that can produce painful puncture wounds (as Simon will tell you). A person punctured by one of the sharp spines will immediately feel severe pain and swelling. Treatments is to immerse the wound in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated) for an hour. Local anaesthetics or nerve blocks may also be required. Although the sting is rarely fatal the wound may take several months to fully heal.

Last Updated on Tuesday 21st December 2010