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Retailing The Hawkfishes, Family Cirrhitidae

Bob Fenner

Amblycirrhites pinos

Here's a group of hardy, almost-always available fishes sure to attract and please your customers with their "predatory" activity. To observe real "hawk-like" behavior, all one need do is watch these fishes for a while . When something of interest catches the Hawkfish's eye, it is quick to swoop up or down and investigate.

Their seemingly continuous, sedentary "perching" is about the only negative thing that can be said about the hawkfishes. These colorful, interesting fishes are undemanding in terms of water quality & foods; they get along well with other species and are generally fast-enough and tank-mate-wise to avoid being hassled.


Hawkfishes comprise about ten genera and thirty four species (Randall 1963). Their distribution range is mainly Indo-Pacific with some species in the tropical West and East Atlantic. All are marine. Most species are found in shallow water with some to a few hundred feet.

They bear a close resemblance to rockfishes/scorpionfishes/Lionfishes (family Scorpaenidae) except that they lack their prominent head spines. Hawkfishes have a continuous hard and soft dorsal fin of ten spines, often with cirri at their tips. The pectoral fins are distinctive in having elongated, unbranched lower rays. The tail fin is squared off.

Another important trait is that the cirrhitid family lacks swim bladders; allowing them to be rapidly decompressed after capture.

Some Commonly Available Species:

The Red-Eye or Arc-Eye Hawkfish, Paracirrhites arcatus. With an interesting U-shaped three color patch behind the eye. They grow to @ 6 inches.

Forster's or Freckled Hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri. With a body marked by dark spots on the front half and horizontal bands on the rear. This species can be testy when it reaches it's full length of about one foot in length.

The Long-Nose Hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus. The hawkfish most hobbyists have seen and want. With a long, pointed snout, white body with maroon cross-hatching. It's price was and is high in large part due to deep water (one hundred feet plus) collection. It is often caught around black corals!

This superlatively suitable aquarium species reaches approximately five inches in total length.

Amblycirrhites pinos; the Ruby Spotted Hawkfish. The sole Caribbean species. It is hardy, inexpensive and readily available.

Cirrhitichthys falco. A mottled hawkfish commonly imported for the Philippines.


A good Hawkfish is easy to find; all species and most individual specimens are suitable for captivity. They ship well and are relatively parasite free from the wild. Standard Operating Procedure for all marine purchases is all that should be followed: 1) ascertain that the prospective purchase has been at your wholesalers for at least a few days 2) ask regarding it's existing water conditions 3) somewhat superfluously in the case of this family, ask to that the fishes are eating what you intend to feed.

If you're hand-picking them, torn fins and suspicious blemishes are to be avoided. Curiosity and activity are requisite behavior for any new purchase.


No special consideration is required; just regular maintenance (Savitt 1976).Hawkfishes do well in natural or synthetic water of regular to lower specific gravity. They are not sensitive in terms of temperature. Low to upper seventy degrees Fahrenheit are suggested.

Despite their, at times, secretive nature, possession of large eyes and nocturnal habits, hawkfish adapt to well-lit aquarium conditions (Takeshita 1975).


Hawkfishes are fine with other species as long as their

tankmates are large enough to not be eaten or eat the hawks. Sometimes they can become territorial after being in the same system a long time (Savitt 1976). Occasional shifting, addition or removal of part of the habitat alleviates this problem. They may chase other fishes, but rarely do any damage.

Regarding reef systems: Be forewarned that a Hawkfish's large jaws and sharp teeth are ideal devices for capturing crustaceans. Some small species are ideal reef additions, but they will eat crustaceans and worms of all sorts.


These fishes display human-responsive behavior very quickly. They imprint easily and will "beg" at the surface and feed out of your hand.


The long-nose hawk is known to lay demersal (bottom) eggs (Randall 1981). Takeshita (1975) describes a courtship dance among a pair in captivity in the early evenings. He also gives notes regarding sexual differences. Briefly; males being smaller, more colorful, with black margins on the pelvic and caudal fins.


Hawkfishes spend most of their time perched on a rock or piece of coral, waiting to make a short fast rush at a food item.

Their short, conical teeth are modified for grasping small zooplankton and fish. They accept all frozen and flake foods readily; with only brief training from the wild.


Hawkfishes are typically "clean" of pathogenic disease and have low parasite loads. They are not particularly sensitive to therapeutic agents or treatment regimens. Quarantine and a prophylactic dip are suggested as always.

Other fishes in the system will typically show symptoms of disease before your hawks, and succumb from the same ahead of them.


The family Cirrhitidae has everything going for it in terms of suitability for captive conditions; they are readily available, moderately inexpensive, hardy, interesting behaviorally, and accept all foods and a wide range of water conditions. All traits making them ideal fishes for resale.


Nelson, J.S. 1976. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York

Randall, J.E. 1963. Review of the hawkfishes (family Cirrhitidae). Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus. 114:389-451

Randall, J.E. 1981. Longnose Hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus. Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine 8/81

Savitt, D. 1976. Hawkfish. Marine Aquarist 7:4 1976.

Stratton, Dick. 1991. The flame hawkfish. TFH 2/91.

Takeshita, G.Y. 1975. Long-snouted hawkfish. Marine Aquarist 6:6 1975

Tinker, S.W. 1978. Fishes of Hawaii. Hawaiian Service, Inc. HI


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