Reef Fish

   A complete guide
   to the feeding behaviors
   of reef fishes

    by Scott W. Michael

When you survey a typical reef scene you will notice that many of the fishes visible to the observer are involved in the act of feeding. Reef fishes spend much of their time searching for, capturing and/or handling their food. It should not be surprising to the reader that in the species-packed coral reef ecosystem the diets of the many species can vary greatly.

In this exclusive Coralrealm guide, we will conduct a detailed exploration into the diverse feeding habits of reef fishes. This includes loads on information and amazing photos documenting feeding behavior.

Feeding Categories

Chevron Bristletooth

Coral reef fishes can be categorized into different groups according to what they feed on and how they catch their food. The five food habit categories or guilds are: the detritivores, the herbivores, the omnivores, the carnivores and the zooplanktivores. Some ecologists recognize fewer guilds, combining the zooplanktivores with the carnivores and the detritivores with the herbivores, such is the case in the studies referred to below.

Investigations on the composition of reef fish communities have demonstrated that carnivores are the most specious of these groups. For example, in the reef fish community around the Indian Ocean Island of Madagascar, herbivores represent 9% of the total number of species, omnivores 17% and carnivores 74%. In Puerto Rico the numbers are similar with herbivores representing 11%, omnivores 15% and carnivores 74%. But, herbivores constitute a larger percentage of all reef fish in an area when we consider weight rather than number of species. For example, in the Virgin Islands carnivores represent 24%, omnivores 16% and herbivores 60% of all reef fish by weight. We see a similar trend off the East African coast.

The Detritivores ...
The Herbivores ...
The Omnivores ...
The Carnivores ...

Carnivore Food Types

Food Type

Learn more about the types of food that carnivores eat and the techniques they use to exploit these various prey types. Includes loads of information about nine different major food categories!

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The Hunting Strategies of Carnivores


Fish and crustacean feeders use a variety of different strategies to capture their prey and can be classified in different groups based on the hunting techniques they employ. Many fish fall into more than one of these categories; for example, frogfishes, may ambush, lure or stalk their prey. Learn more about the large variety of hunting stratagies used by carnivores!

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This guild consists of highly specialized carnivores that feed above the reef on planktonic animals. There are those fishes that feed on zooplankton during the day and those that feed on them at night.
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Wolves in Sheep's Clothing - Aggressive Mimicry
Coming November 15th!

A Wolf

Most of us are familiar with the fable about the wolf that donned a sheep skin in order to mingle among and feed on unsuspecting sheep. There are a number of reef fishes that, like the wolf, "put on" the attire and adopt the behaviors of harmless species in order to sneak-up on their prey.
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Activity Patterns of Carnivores


The activity patterns of carnivores also vary according to the animals on which they feed. Learn more about when these fishes feed.
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Ganging Up on Territory Holders
Coming November 15th!

Damsel Farmer

The areas defended by territorial damselfishes and tangs usually contains the richest algal crop on the reef and can cover large areas in certain habitats. But, it is almost impossible for a lone herbivore to feed in the territory of one of these combative fish. Find out how other reef fishes take advantage of this rich food resource.
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Farming Damsel Damselfishes: The Farmers of the Reef
Coming November 15th!

The damselfish maintains a garden, or algal turf, that becomes a growing substrate for bacteria, diatoms and smaller filamentous algae. This garden is more productive than surrounding areas. Learn more about the farming techniques of damselfishes here.
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