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The Trumpet Fish, Or How to Play Hide and Seek in The Ocean: PRO Level

The fish dies through the mouth,” says the Spanish saying. The trumpet fish is also named after it, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The trumpet fish is one of the many amazing creatures you can encounter if you dive into the waters of the Caribbean. From their intriguing appearance to their unique feeding habits, these fish are a true underwater wonder, but almost no one knows about them. And they are experts at going unnoticed if you don’t pay attention to them. However, they deserve it. In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about the trumpetfish and its color variations, habitat, and much more.

Take a look at the table of contents.

1. Trumpet Fish: A Formal Presentation of a Fascinating Fish

The trumpetfish, also known as the trumpeter, receives its common name as a result of its most distinctive characteristics: its long, slender body, tightly compressed head, and exceptionally long, tubular snout. In other words, it looks like a trumpet.


1.1. Scientific Name of the Trumpetfish

But… There are also other fish with mouths as long as trumpets, you’ll tell me. And you will be right because seahorses and cornetfish belong to the same order as trumpeters; I am talking about the order Syngnathiformes. However, they are not the same gender or family, although they share a distant relationship.

The trumpet fish belongs to the genus Aulostomus and is part of the Aulostomidae family. The generic name, Aulostomus, is a combination of two Greek words: “aulos,” meaning flute, and “stoma,” meaning mouth.

Regarding the species of trumpetfish, it should be noted that there are only three: the Chinese trumpet fish, the African trumpetfish, and the painted trumpetfish or Aulostomus maculatus, which is the one we find when diving in the Caribbean and practically throughout the Atlantic. Our friend.

2. Physical Appearance of Trumpetfish

As we have already mentioned, trumpet fish appear elongated, both in their bodies and in their heads, which is useful for them to access the crevices of the corals where they live. On the chin, they have a distinctive feature and lack teeth on the upper jaw, while they have tiny ones on the lower jaw.

Their dorsal fins consist of between eight and thirteen small, isolated spines, while the pelvic fins, situated behind the pectoral fins, are short and reach the anus. The dorsal and anal fins are relatively tall and similarly shaped towards the back of their bodies. The base of the tail is thin, and the tail fin has a rounded shape.

In addition, they have small, rough scales.


2.1. How Long Is a Trumpet Fish?

If you have only seen photographs of a trumpetfish and have not encountered one in its natural habitat, you will be surprised by their actual size, as they can grow up to one meter (3 feet) in length.


2.2. Trumpet Fish Color Variations

One of the most astonishing aspects of trumpet fish is their ability to change color. Typically, their color phase ranges from brown to red, but they can exhibit shades that range from grayish-blue to bright yellow. Additionally, their bodies usually display pale lines, small scattered black spots, and a black stripe on the upper jaw. It is important to note that the yellow trumpetfish and the blue trumpet fish are not two different species but rather the same species that change color.

How do trumpetfish change color, and why do they do it?

Trumpet fish change color thanks to the chromatophores in their skin. These are cells with pigments inside that reflect light. Trumpetfish swap one pigment for another, reorient the reflective surface, and voilà, they change from blue to yellow to green in the blink of an eye. This ability allows them to adapt to their environment and effectively camouflage themselves, as they require light to maximize their mimicry ability. Therefore, they are diurnal creatures and remain active during the day.

Due to their small fins, they do not stand out as swimmers, so this camouflage mechanism allows them to stalk their prey without being seen and protect themselves from predators. They have a dual role, as they can be both predators and prey (we will explore some camouflage techniques in the curiosities section).

Additionally, their changing color palette plays a significant role in their love life, as during courtship, trumpet fish put on a colorful display in a captivating underwater dance.

3. The Trumpetfish in Its Natural Habitat

These fish have a real penchant for warm, exciting waters. You can find them in the western Atlantic Ocean, in the tropical region that extends from southern Florida to the northern coast of South America. Additionally, they appear in the eastern Atlantic. In each of these areas, one of the three species that we have already mentioned above dominates. Trumpetfish love shallow waters ranging from 2 to 20 meters. They typically choose places with marine vegetation, such as areas with grass or algae, although you will also find them in coral reefs.


4. What Does the Trumpet Fish Eat? The Trumpeter Diet

Let’s discuss the feeding habits of trumpetfish. As we have already seen, the trumpetfish loves to play hide-and-seek in the ocean. When prey passes nearby, it falls victim to a surprising process called “pipette feeding.” The trumpetfish’s mouth widens to the size of its body and creates a powerful suction that draws in the unwary, becoming food in the blink of an eye. A spectacle of agility and skill!

Now, what do trumpetfish eat? They are carnivores, or rather, piscivores: their diet primarily consists of small fish. They relish species such as squirrelfish and damselfish. Their elastic mouth enables them to catch even fish larger than the size of their own mouth. They can consume specimens as large as surgeonfish.


5. How Do Trumpetfish Reproduce?

Although trumpet fish reproduction has not been widely studied, they are known to engage in an elaborate mating or courtship ritual. This ritual takes place in shallow water or near the water’s surface. Why in surface waters? Because they need light to change color as they dance.

During this courtship “dance,” you can observe how they swim around each other, in parallel or facing each other, often touching their long snouts.

Like most fish, trumpetfish are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. In the case of the trumpet fish, the male assumes the responsibility of carrying and caring for the eggs that the female lays. After the mating dance, the female passes her eggs to the male, who fertilizes them. He then places them in his specialized pouch, where they remain until they are ready to hatch.

6. Trumpet Fish Facts

  • A curious aspect of trumpetfish, in addition to the length of their mouth, is that it can open wide to eat as if it were the bell of a trumpet instrument. Additionally, this feature allows them to capture other fish through suction.
  • Though they are not the most agile swimmers, trumpetfish have developed an ingenious strategy to survive in the deep ocean.
  • Relying largely on their chameleon-like ability, they position themselves vertically between the branches of soft corals and gorgonians, such as sea fans, and allow themselves to be swayed by the water’s current. The result? They go unnoticed by both their predators and their prey, who mistake them for something else.
  • But that’s not all; the trumpetfish also masters a technique known as ‘shadowing,’ by which it uses other herbivorous fish as cover. The trumpetfish stays in the shadow of the herbivore that is not a threat to its prey and continues this way until they are close enough to attack. At that moment, it shoots out and uses its powerful suction again to capture its prey.
  • Trumpetfish are solitary. However, when night falls, you can find them sleeping in groups, in upright positions, with their snouts down, bobbing among the seaweed and aquatic plants. This tactic serves as a form of defense, protecting them from nocturnal predators for which they serve as prey.

7. Trumpetfish Pictures

trumpetfish - pez trompeta (5)
trumpetfish - pez trompeta (4)

This guide has provided you with a comprehensive insight into the life of trumpetfish, their habitat, and their amazing abilities and adaptations to the environment. After reading it, we are confident that the next time you encounter a trumpetfish specimen, you will view it with different eyes. As Cousteau once said, “You love what you know,” and now you know the trumpetfish better. Don’t believe it? Drop us a line and come to the Caribbean to see for yourself.

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