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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Atlantic Trumpetfish Aulostomus maculatus

The Atlantic Trumpetfish is a shy reef fish that lives on the coral reefs and seagrass beds of the Caribbean Sea and surrounding waters. It is long, skinny, and somewhat compressed from side to side (rather than cylindrical-shaped, like some eels) and is known to reach lengths of over three feet (one meter).

The Atlantic Trumpetfish (like all trumpetfishes) is closely related to pipefishes and seahorses, and has a similarly shaped head that it uses for suction feeding. While it may look like it has a large mouth, its mouth is actually fairly small and only opens slightly at the tip of its long snout. The Atlantic Trumpetfish uses its large snout and triangle-shaped head to create a large amount of suction that is concentrated at the mouth (much like a straw), allowing it to easily suck in its prey of small fishes and mobile invertebrates (like shrimps). In order to succeed at this feeding strategy, the Atlantic Trumpetfish utilizes a number of interesting behaviors to sneak up on and approach its prey:

  1. Atlantic Trumpetfish can be observed hovering, vertically, among the long branches of soft corals, swaying back and forth in the currents. By hovering motionless (aside from the swaying caused by the water movement), these fish fool their prey into approaching. Once the unsuspecting prey realizes it has been tricked, it is too late; the Atlantic Trumpetfish attacks.
  2. Individual Atlantic Trumpetfish come in a wide variety of colors (ranging from yellow to purple to brown; often with vertical bars), perhaps suited to blending in with the soft corals on their home reefs. In addition to their differing background colors, these fish have specialized color cells (called chromatophores) that allow them to alter their color to more closely resemble their surroundings.
  3. Some larger individuals have been observed taking advantage of their skinny, narrow profile by lurking closely behind an active, browsing feeder like a large surgeonfish or parrotfish. As the browser moves along the reef to eat algae or sessile invertebrates, smaller fishes and mobile invertebrates that are startled become easy prey for the Atlantic Trumpetfish that is close behind.

The conservation status of the Atlantic Trumpetfish is currently unknown. Scientists know them to be rare; no more than a few adults are normally seen during a long SCUBA dive. Throughout their range, Atlantic Trumpetfish are not typically eaten, and they are not captured widely for use in the private aquarium industry (though this practice is growing). Quite likely, the Atlantic Trumpetfish is a naturally rare species.

Atlantic Trumpetfishzoom image
  • Distribution tropical western Atlantic Ocean from Florida (and Bermuda) to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico
  • Ecosystem/Habitat coral and rocky reefs and nearby seagrass beds; often hide among soft corals
  • Feeding Habits sit and wait predator
  • Conservation Status rare but unknown status
  • Taxonomy Order Syngnathiformes (pipefishes and relatives), Family Aulostomidae (trumpetfishes)
Atlantic Trumpetfish habitat mapzoom image