This very common Hawaiian fish is often though of as three different fish by snorkelers. Underwater without a flashlight they look just a drab brown but when you turn the bright lights on they are amazing colors! The babies are yellow, black and white, so they are often thought to be a completely different fish.
The Hawaiian name means “to stick to coral,” because most of the time these 6-inch-long fish are sitting on top of a live coral head. When they are frightened they dart into the coral for protection just like you may jump into you car or house when threatened.
When the coral dies so does this beautiful fish because it has nowhere to hide from predators!
In other parts of the Pacific Ocean from Palau to Tahiti this very same fish has lost most of the black band on its side so it is called a freckled hawkfish in those areas.
It is fascinating to see many of the same type of fish in the Philippines, Palau, Bora Bora, Mo‘orea and Tahiti, as I see in Hawaii, but they may have a little difference in color pattern in each area but usually have the same behavior. Just teaches us a little bit about evolution and how isolated Hawaii is and how our fish may have evolved a little bit different here.
To view more of Kauai Marine Biologist Terry Lilley’s underwater pictures and educational videos you can visit his web page at www.underwater2web.com.