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Filefish Species, All about these Caribbean Dive Buddies

Among the species of fish, the triggerfish is not a member of the filefish family. We’re sorry to break the news, but they belong to different fish families, although they both belong to the same order, Tetraodontiformes, and are often confused. They look so alike that they are both known as “leatherjacket fish” due to the rough and dry texture of their skin. Additionally, all species of filefish and triggerfish have an elongated front spine that they can raise and lower as they, please.

The difference between them is that triggerfish can lock their front spine, while file fish cannot. How do they do it? We’ll tell you in another article.

The family name for the filefish, Monacanthidae, comes from the Greek words “monos,” which means “one,” and “akantha,” which means “spine.”

Out of the 102 species of filefish that exist in the world, in this article, we’ll get to know the most common ones in the Caribbean.

Get ready to explore the depths and dive into the world of 8 Caribbean filefish species!

Playa. Orange Filefish II.

1. General characteristics of the Caribbean filefish

1.1. Morphology and anatomy

If you’re a fan of the underwater world, you might have come across file fish during your dives. These diamond-shaped creatures are masters of camouflage. When viewed from the side, their bodies give the impression of being larger than they actually are but viewed head-on, they are thin like the keel of a boat. This sensation is further accentuated when they have their retractable spine deployed on their head.

All species of filefish have soft fins, reminiscent of window curtains. Their tails are fan-shaped and their pectoral fins appear small compared to the rest of their body, so they don’t swim very fast, but they maneuver remarkably well.

Another distinctive trait of all filefish species is their teeth. They are barely visible because they are very small, but they have powerful incisors in both jaws that are ideal for feeding. Their favorite dishes include small crustaceans and algae.

In terms of size, most file fish species do not exceed 60 cm (24 inches) in length, although the Scrawled Filefish exceed these marks.

Another interesting point about these fish is that in some species, males and females differ in terms of shapes and colors.


1.2.  Behavior and habitat

Filefish live in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, and of course in the Caribbean.

When they are adults, they love to hang out in shallow waters, usually no more than 30 meters deep. Many filefish species prefer to live on reefs and use their crevices and hiding places to hide. Others love to hide in seaweed, floating upside down among the seaweed to deceive predators and surprise their prey. We can often find species of filefish that have a color pattern that helps them blend in with their environment when they feel threatened and if that doesn’t work, they will retreat to the crevices of the reefs.


1.3. Feeding and reproduction

When it comes to food, filefish species don’t agree. Some species find algae and seagrass delicious, while others like to chew on small invertebrates such as tunicates, gorgonians, and hydrozoans. Others love corals.

Regarding reproduction, filefish are careful when choosing the location where the female will deposit the eggs and they defend it no matter what. In some species, this task is exclusive to the male, while in others they take turns.

When the offspring are born, they head to open waters and take refuge in the seaweed of tuna and dorado: their main predators. As the seaweed is moved by the current, they go back and forth until they are big enough to go to the reef.

So, the next time you go scuba diving and see a filefish, think about all the effort it took to get there.

2. Caribbean filefish species

2.1. Scrawled Filefish

Scrawled Filefish are cool creatures, which are easily recognizable with their elongated bodies and broom-like tails, covered in distinctive blue-to-blue-green spots, irregular lines, and black dots. They vary in color from pale or tan to dark olive-brown, and can even darken or pale dramatically – talk about chameleons of the sea!

You’ll usually find scrawled filefish drifting over reefs, sometimes even in open water. But be warned, they’re a bit camera-shy and tend to keep their distance from divers. If you want to snap a pic, approach them slowly and without any threatening movements.

One thing to note is that their tails are often closed and limp. But don’t worry they are alive just chilling.

So, next time you’re diving and spot a scrawled filefish take a moment to appreciate its unique features!

Filefish Species - Scrawled Filefish

2.2. Orange-spotted Filefish

Another cool filefish specie that you might come across while scuba diving is the Orange-spotted Filefish (scientific name: Cantherhines pullus).

What sets this fish apart from the rest? It has two unique features: a white spot on the upper base of its tail and usually a smaller spot underneath. Plus, its body is covered in orangish spots that really make it stand out.

In terms of its appearance, the most common color phase includes wide, dark brown stripes and narrow, dull yellow stripes that converge near the tail base. However, this fish can also change to a solid brown, darken, or even pale.

You’ll usually find the Orange-spotted Filefish hanging out near the bottom of the ocean, often hiding in tangles of antler coral or gorgonians. And when it comes to encountering divers, these fish can be pretty shy – they’ll typically retreat into holes or cracks in the reef when approached too closely.

Filefish Species - Orange spotted Filefish

2.3. Orange Filefish

The endemic Orange Filefish that you might just encounter on your next underwater adventure has some seriously distinctive features, including an extremely thin body that’s covered in bright orange dots and a long tail base that’s shaped like a broom.

When it comes to colors, these fish are all about variety – they can be pale silvery gray, bright orange, or even orangish brown, and they often sport large, dark blotches or areas. And get this: their coloring can actually change dramatically depending on their surroundings! So don’t be surprised if you see one of these fish looking totally different from one moment to the next.

Where do these fish like to live? Well, they’re big fans of seagrasses, but they can be found all over the place, including on reefs and other types of underwater habitats. And while they’re usually content to just swim or drift around, you might spot them hanging out in pairs or small groups from time to time.

Now, if you’re hoping to get up close and personal with one of these little guys, I have some bad news: they tend to be pretty shy, and they usually like to keep their distance from divers. That said, if you approach them slowly and carefully (and without making any threatening movements), you might just be able to get a little closer and appreciate all their unique features up close!

Filefish Species - Orange Filefish

2.4. Whitespotted Filefish

Among the white-spotted Filefish’s distinctive features, we find a noticeably extended belly appendage and some bright orange spines at the base of its tail.

So, what does this fish look like? Well, its upper body can be various shades of gray, olive, or brown, while its underbelly is a vibrant orange. And get this: it has two phases in its life, one with large, whitish spots, and the other without.

When it comes to where you might find this fish, it likes to hang out on top of reefs, often moving around in pairs (in both color phases, of course). And if you’re lucky enough to encounter one of these little guys, you might notice that they’re somewhat curious and like to peek out from behind gorgonians.

Now, I know what you’re really wondering – can you get up close and personal with this fish while scuba diving? Well, the good news is that they can be closely approached with slow movements. So, take your time and enjoy all the unique features of this awesome filefish species!

Filefish Species - Whitespotted Filefish

2.5. Pygmy Filefish

Pygmy is a cool file fish that you might spot on your next dive. This fish is known for its distinctive, but vague body stripes that are formed by dashes and spots. Pretty cool, right?

This fish is usually a tan-yellow-brown color, but what’s even more remarkable is that it can change color to match its surroundings.

The males of this species have a highly extended second dorsal fin ray and usually have either 27 or 29 anal fin rays. And, they’re pretty small too, rarely growing over four inches in length. So, keep your eyes wide open if you can see these awesome fish on your next dive!

These fish usually hang out on island reefs well offshore and can also be found in floats of sargassum. And, if you’re a diver, you’re in luck because these little guys aren’t usually afraid of us. They’ll usually let us approach slowly if we don’t show any threatening behavior.

2.6. Slender Filefish

Slender Filefish is a super elusive fish that’s really hard to spot. This little guy has a slender elongated head, snout, and body, and usually sports a white reticulated pattern over their body. Talk about a stylish fish!

This fish can vary in shades from reddish brown to yellow-brown, brown, or gray, with the upper body usually being darker. And, get this, they can change color dramatically to blend in with their background. So, good luck spotting them! Even their reticulated markings may become indistinct.

If you can distinguish it, you will realize this fish has a large dewlap, which is an extendable belly appendage, and it usually has a yellowish edge with a submarginal blue line.

You can usually find these sneaky fish inhabiting reefs. They also often drift vertically among the branches of gorgonians. And, their camouflage ability makes them incredibly difficult to spot. But, if you do manage to catch a glimpse, they can be closely approached. Although, they do seem hesitant to leave the cover of their gorgonian branches.

So, keep your eyes peeled for this elusive file fish on your next dive, and good luck spotting it!

Filefish Species - Slender Filefish

2.7. Fringed Filefish

Fringed filefish has a thick body (if we compare it with other filefish species) and a protruding snout, but it’s not elongated. And, if you look closely, you’ll see that the base of its dorsal fin has a step hump.

This file fish is highly variable in color, ranging from brown to reddish brown, yellow-brown, green, or gray. And, it usually has numerous dark and white speckles, spots, and blotches. Like some of its relatives, fringed filefish can change color dramatically to blend in with their surroundings.

Fringed filefish also has a large dewlap, which is an extendable belly appendage. And, usually, it has a large black area under it. Its tail is often banded.

If you’re looking to tell the difference between males and females, males have two recurved spines on the base of their tails to the right, which are absent in females.

You can usually find this master of disguise inhabiting sandy or rubble-strewn bottoms with sea grasses or algae. And, its camouflage ability makes it incredibly difficult to spot. But, if you’re lucky enough to see one, they can be closely approached. They do not fear divers who move slowly.

Filefish Species - Fringed Filefish

2.8. Planehead Filefish

Now we talk about a pretty unique fish species with some distinct physical features. Meet the Planehead Filefish!

These little guys are easily recognizable by their thick, blotched bodies and a snout and nape profile that’s nearly straight, at about a 45-degree angle. Their coloration is usually blotched in variable shades of tan to brown or gray, occasionally even greenish.

What’s really cool about the male Planehead Filefish is their highly extended second dorsal fin ray. And if you’re counting anal fin rays, these fish usually have 31 to 33.

Planehead Filefish tend to hang out in rocky reefs or rubble-strewn bottoms, occasionally with sea grasses or algae. And if you’re a diver, you’ll be happy to know that these fish are relatively unafraid and usually allow for a slow, non-threatening approach.

So, there you have it – the plane head Filefish, a fascinating creature that’s worth keeping an eye out for on your next dive!

In conclusion, filefish species are fascinating creatures with unique characteristics that make them stand out from other fish. Now you already know the eight most common filefish species found in the Caribbean. Among them, the Scrawled Filefish and the Orange-spotted Filefish are the species you meet most of the time scuba diving with Dressel Divers in the Caribbean.

As scuba divers, understanding the characteristics and behaviors of these filefish species is crucial for appreciating their uniqueness. Now, there is only a question that lacks answering. When are you coming to see them face-to-face?

Filefish Species - Planehead Filefish

In conclusion, filefish species are fascinating creatures with unique characteristics that make them stand out from other fish. Now you already know the eight most common filefish species found in the Caribbean. Among them, the Scrawled Filefish and the Orange-spotted Filefish are the species you meet most of the time scuba diving with Dressel Divers in the Caribbean.

As scuba divers, understanding the characteristics and behaviors of these filefish species is crucial for appreciating their uniqueness. Now, there is only a question that lacks answering. When are you coming to see them face-to-face?