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Goatfish belong to the family Mullidae in the order Perciformes. The name Mullidae is derived from the Latin word mullus which means soft. The family Mullidae currently contains 55 species divided into 6 different genera. Some of the species have been successfully kept by aquarists and quite a few goatfishes are vibrantly coloured.   

The goatfishes from the genus Mullus in the family Mullidae are sometimes referred to as red mullets as opposed to the grey mullets in the family Mugilidae in the order Mugiliformes. As you can see, they belong to different orders and are not closely related.

Geographical range, habitat and habits

Goatfish are found in tropical parts of the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. A few species, such as Upeneus tragula (see picture), will occasionally venture into brackish estuarine environments and rivers, but most species spend their entire life in saltwater. Goatfish are typically found near reefs in shallow parts of the sea and will not go deeper than 110 meters (360 feet).

Many night-feeding species of goatfish will spend the day relaxing in large schools and these schools will frequently include fish from other families. Yellowfin goatfish(Mulloidichthys vanicolensis) living in the Red Sea are for instance fond of schooling with Common bluestripe snappers (Lutjanus kasmira) during the day. The Yellowfin goatfish will even change its own colouration to look more similar to the Common bluestripe snappers. When the day is over the schools will disband and each goatfish will swim away to feed alone.

Goatfish species that feeds during the day will typically live alone, but they do school as juveniles.

Feeding Goatfish

The goatfish is a benthic feeder, i.e. it will search for food on the bottom. The fish is equipped with two long whiskers (barbels) that extend from the chin. These whiskers contain chemosensory organs and can detect even extremely well camouflaged and carefully hidden prey in the sand. The goatfish will use its whiskers to probe the sand in search of small fish and various types of small invertebrates, such as crustaceans, molluscs and worms.

Breeding  Goatfish

The Goatfish is a pelagic spawner and it does not guard its offspring. The female will release a large number of eggs into the water where they will be fertilized by the male. The eggs are buoyant and will intermingle with the plankton and be swept away by currents.


The goatfish has an elongated deep body, the dorsal fins are set far apart and the caudal fin is forked. As mentioned above, the chin of the fish features two long barbels.

The largest scientifically measured goatfish was a 60 cm (almost 24 inches) long Dash-and-dot goatfish (Parupeneus barberinus).

Many goatfish species are brilliantly coloured and all species are capable of changing their coloration to match their current activity. Some species will for instance change their colour while feeding and the abovementioned Yellowfin goatfish will change colours to look more like a snapper when schooling with snappers.

Goatfish Articles:

Dash-and-Dot Goatfish – Information on how to keep this species (Parupeneus barberinoides).


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