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Red Bigeye Fish: 3 Families of Amazing Fish with Big Eyes

In the crevices of coral reefs, where sunlight barely penetrates, red bigeye fish lurk.

The sun has set, and darkness descends on the reef. As a night diver in the warm waters of the Caribbean, you suddenly see something move in the distance. It’s a fish, but not just any fish.

It has two bright, big eyes that glow in the darkness. Its body is red, from head to toe, even its fins are red. It’s a red bigeye snapper.

The bigeye swims slowly towards you, curious. It’s not a threatening fish. Its big eye stares at you. “The color of its body is so bright,” you think.

It’s so eye-catching that it attracts a much smaller fish. The bigeye snatches it up in a flash and eats it. It’s a nocturnal hunter, and its big eyes allow it to see in the dark.

Today, we’re going to talk about these fish. In this article, we’ll explore three families of bigeye fish that can be found in the Caribbean: Holocentridae, Priacanthidae, and Apogonidae. Each family has its own distinctive characteristics, but they all share one thing in common: they’re beautiful and fascinating fish that deserve to be known.

Do you want to learn more about these fascinating fish?

Red Bigeye Fish ADORNO - Pez rojo de ojos grandes

1. Big Eye Snapper: The Quintessential Red Fish with Big Eyes

In the tropical and subtropical depths of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans resides a magnificent marine predator known as the Atlantic Bigeye Snapper, also called the Glasseye Snapper, Glass Bigeye, Red Bigeye Snapper, or Big Eye Snapper. With its oval and laterally compressed body, this fearless inhabitant of coral reefs is distinguished by its striking red color, sometimes adorned with silver hues and reddish bars on the fins. It has a large, upturned mouth, equipped with a prominent lower jaw that protrudes above its asymmetric body.

What makes this marine predator so unique? Its disproportionately large eyes are a masterpiece of evolutionary adaptation. These big eyes are believed to capture and reflect light exceptionally, allowing this species to forage effectively in the twilight of the reefs, in search of invertebrates.

Although its length ranges from 8 to 20 inches and its weight fluctuates between 2 and 6 pounds, the Atlantic Bigeye Snapper remains a formidable hunter, with impressive agility displayed in both open waters and the vicinity of reefs. However, it typically prefers to inhabit near the latter.

Despite its elusive nature, fortunate divers can spot these enigmatic marine inhabitants, whose ancestors date back an impressive 50 million years.

Those wishing to witness the beauty of this magnificent predator should head to the tropical waters of the Atlantic Bigeye Snapper, from Canada and The Caribbean Sea in the west, to Madeira and the Mediterranean in the east. Although its habitat extends from the top of the water column to the seafloor, it is more commonly found in shallow waters.

So, for diving and marine life enthusiasts, catching a glimpse of the Atlantic Red Bigeye Snapper, with its piercing gaze and elegant silhouette, is an experience they will never forget.

Red Bigeye Fish GLASSEYE SNAPPER - Pez rojo de ojos grandes


Distinctive features
Always have silver bars on the back, which may be faint.

Red BIgeye Fish - SHORT BIGEYE SNAPPER Sebastian Niedlich - Pez rojo de ojos grandes


Distinctive features
Orange overall with a wide dark border on large ventral fins.

(Picture by Sebastian Niedlich)

Red Bigeye Fish - ATLANTIC BIGEYE SNAPPER Kevin Bryant - Pez rojo de ojos grandes


Distinctive features
Uniform reddish color. Never have silver bars or other markings.

(Picture by Kevin Bryant)

2. Squirrel-like Red Fish with Big Eyes

As the sun sets and darkness envelops the Caribbean waters, an intriguing family of squirrelfish emerges, capturing the attention of discerning divers with their striking features and enigmatic behavior.

Holocentridae, commonly known as squirrelfish or soldierfish, belong to the order Beryciformes. Their large eyes and presence in the vibrant Caribbean reefs make them a spectacle worth exploring.


Anatomy of Eyed Squirrelfish

Members of this fish family are known for their reddish coloration and big eyes, which resemble those of squirrels. Additionally, they possess an elongated dorsal fin that bears some resemblance to the tails of their terrestrial cousins.

Their slender body stripes, sometimes white and other times golden-yellow, add a charming touch to their already remarkable appearance. Although they share similarities, each species boasts unique characteristics that allow for easy distinction.

Young squirrelfish, with their big eyes and slender, silvery bodies, often stay hidden, making sightings of these juveniles truly special encounters.


Big Eye Red Squirrelfish Behavior

Squirrelfish primarily feed on crustaceans and other small marine organisms. Some species of this bigeye fish family are known for their distinctive sounds that resonate in the ocean and are often audible to attentive divers.

These fish thrive in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. During the day, they love to hang out around coral reefs, caves, and rocky crevices at depths ranging from 10 to 200 meters, and sometimes even deeper!

However, be cautious! Some species of these big-eyed fish are a bit territorial and don’t take kindly to intruders, especially those who behave similarly. So, avoid getting into trouble in their territory!


Big Eyed Red Squirrelfish Reproduction

An underwater fertilization party occurs from January to March and again in the fall. Female squirrelfish release their eggs into the water like confetti, while male squirrelfish release their sperm nearby to ensure the party continues.

After this exciting festival of external fertilization, the eggs develop and hatch into tiny larvae that glide and swirl in the water column. The larvae eventually metamorphose into juveniles and then adults, ready to join the squirrelfish gang on the reef.

As divers venture into the mysterious depths of the Caribbean, the opportunity to witness the intricate world of these bigeye fish presents itself as a captivating exploration.

Red Bigeye Fish SQUIRRELFISH - Pez rojo de ojos grandes


Distinctive features
Yellowish front dorsal fin.

Red Bigeye Fish CARDINAL SOLDIERFISH - Pez rojo de ojos grandes


Distinctive features
Unmarked bright red to orangish red and lobes of tail rounded.

Red Bigeye Fish BLACKBAR SOLDIERFISH Kevin Bryant - Pez ojo-grande Rojo


Distinctive features
Black bar behind the head.

(Picture by Kevin Bryant)

3. The Cardinalfish with Big Eyes

Cardinalfish are members of the big-eyed Apogonidae family. With a total of 337 species spread across 24 genera. And who says size matters? These big-eyed fish are small in size, ranging from one inch to three, but with their large eyes, relatively short snouts, and two separate dorsal fins, they can be found in different areas of the world, including coral reefs and nearby seagrass meadows.

Known for their nocturnal nature, during the day, they tend to be a bit shy, hiding in dark corners of the reef and in the alleys between corals. But when night falls, it’s party time for these big-eyed fish! They form sizable gangs, emerging from their hiding spots to hunt in open waters. Some species of cardinalfish form monogamous pairs and fiercely defend their territory. At times, large groups of these small bigeye fish can be found in caves.

Did you know that some of these big-eyed fish have a special relationship with organisms like tubular sponges, anemones, and queen conch? Yes, they live in association with them, which provides them with VIP access to a buffet of marine delights while being protected. And wait, there’s more! Some species are even capable of producing sounds to communicate with each other!

Here are some fun facts about cardinalfish:

  • Cardinalfish are found in all tropical and subtropical oceans.
  • Some species of cardinalfish can change color to blend in with their surroundings.
  • Cardinalfish are an important part of the marine ecosystem, as they help to control populations of small invertebrates.

If you are ever diving or snorkeling in a coral reef, be sure to keep an eye out for cardinalfish. These big-eyed fish are fascinating creatures, and they are a joy to watch.

Red Bigeye Fish FLAMEFISH Kevin Bryant - Pez ojo-grande Rojo


Distinctive features
Two white lines across its big eyes and a dark spot behind its eye.

(Picture by Kevin Bryant)

red bigeye Fish BRIDLE CARDINALFISH Brian Cole - Pez ojo-grande Rojo


Distinctive features
No markings. Live with anemones.

(Picture by Brian Cole)

Red Bigeye Fish BLACKBAR SOLDIERFISH Kevin Bryant - Pez ojo-grande Rojo


Distinctive features
Dark stripe that goes from the nose to the big eye.

From squirrelfish with their squirrel-like appearance, to impressive redfish with their disproportionately big eyes, and playful cardinalfish that form nocturnal gangs and establish intriguing associations with other marine creatures, each of these families offers a unique story in the fascinating underwater world.

Bigeye fish not only stand out for their beauty and behavior, but they also remind us of the importance of preserving and protecting the delicate marine ecosystems they inhabit.

We invite you to explore the lives of these red bigeye fish and immerse yourself in a world of natural wonders and exciting discoveries. An experience that, as divers, will undoubtedly enrich our understanding and appreciation for the diversity of marine life.

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    The purpose of this article is purely informative and does not seek any economic gain.

    Credit for the photos used in this article belong to their respective authors.