Fish Id, a quick look

queen angelHow many times have you come back from a dive and ran right for the fish id book and excitedly starting flipping through the pages desperately trying to figure out what that strange and wonderful new fish was that you saw? It happens at least 2 or 3 times on just about every dive trip. We become familiar with so many of the creatures that we see and after a short time frame are able to group them into families to make our fish id book easier to use.

There are over 21000 species of fish and over 4000 of them can be found on the coral reefs of the world.  The most common of which can be broken down into 30 to 50 different families, we can break them down into 12 common groups


  1. Butterfly fish, angelfish and surgeonfish
  2. Jacks, barracuda, porgy and chubs
  3. Snappers and grunts
  4. Damselfish, chromis and hamlets
  5. Groupers, sea bass and basslets
  6. Parrotfish and wrasse
  7. Squirrelfish, bige yes and cardinal fish
  8. Blennies, gobies and jaw fish
  9. Flounders, scorpion fish, lizardfish and frogfish
  10. File fish, trigger fish, puffers, trunkfish, cowfish, goatfish, trumpet fish and drums
  11.  Eels
  12.  Sharks and rays

fish id butterflyLet’s break down the first group to help you in your fish id adventure.  The Butterfly, angel and surgeon (tang) fish id tangare all generally thin in the body with an oval or disc shape with very bright and interesting colors and patterns which allows us to group them easily into one family. But to be better at fish id, we need to note some differences that set these 3 apart within the family.  The Butterfly fish are generally smaller with a concaved forehead and many have a longer mouth that allows them to pick out food in small crevices and cracks. Whereas the Angelfish are darker in color with a rounded forehead and have long dorsal fins and are multi-colored and our surgeon or tangs are one solid color with maybe a small accent color and if you can see them, there are little spikes by the tail.

As you practice your fish id skills on your next dive pick one family and see how many of the families with in the family you can identify. To add a challenge to your fish id adventure next see how many different of the smaller families you can spot.

scuba joe