The clown triggerfish is a brightly colored foraging predator on coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Like all triggerfishes, the clown triggerfish has very strong jaws and broad teeth, perfect for eating its preferred prey, hard-shelled invertebrates like sea urchins, crustaceans, and mollusks. It is easy to see where the clown triggerfish gets its name; its spots, lines, and head markings make it look almost like it is wearing clown makeup.
The general name ‘triggerfish’ comes from the locking characteristic of the dorsal fin that all triggerfishes possess. The first dorsal-fin spine is large and strong and provides these fishes with some protection from predation. When it is erect (standing upright), it is locked in place by the second spine. The first spine can only be lowered after the second is pulled back, like a trigger. Few species are known to eat clown triggerfish.
Clown triggerfish are territorial, and males are the first to arrive at spawning areas, where they set up and defend small territories. Once females arrive, the males actively court them, and the females decide with which males they will mate. After a female chooses a mate, she lays her eggs in his territory, and he immediately fertilizes them. Together, they guard the nest from egg predators until the eggs hatch, after which the female may visit another male or the mating season may be complete.
As a result of its bright colors, the clown triggerfish is one of the most sought after reef fishes for public and private aquaria. It is often captured in the wild to support this industry. The clown triggerfish is typically fairly uncommon but can reach large numbers at some locations, especially during mating. Its conservation status is currently unknown, but its rarity is likely a natural occurrence.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.