Clown Triggerfish

Clown Triggerfish


Clown triggerfish are medium-sized fish living in the Pacific and Indian oceans. As you can see in the picture above, these fish are very brightly colored. They are also not hard to recognize once you know what they look like. Their body is probably a little more than half black with many different markings. They have orange-yellow lips, and there is a white stripe between their mouth and their eyes. Right behind their eyes, around the first fin, they have a yellow patch with black speckles. The bottom half of this fish is covered in relatively large white ovular spots. At the base of the tail is a wide stripe of yellow with black and white speckles in it. The tail has a lightly colored stripe down the middle which depending on the individual and the lighting can look blue, purple, yellow, or white. The many distinct markings the clown triggerfish has make it easy to tell apart from other fish. Both the males and females have the same markings.

Although every clown triggerfish has these markings, some are not as distinct as others. For some of these fish, the majority of the body is gray instead of black. Another name these fish have is the big-spotted triggerfish, because of the big white spots on their lower half.

Origin of the name

Triggerfish have an interesting origin to their name. Their name refers to the defense technique made by their dorsal fin (on top of their body). This fin, on triggerfish, is made up of two spines, a longer one in front and a shorter one in back. When a triggerfish feels threatened, or when it sleeps at night, it will swim into a hole just barely bigger than its body. It then extends the larger spine, swinging it up and forwards, from lying flat down to standing almost straight up. It also extends the shorter spine. The long, front spine is now in the “upright and locked position.” It cannot be put down unless the fish puts down the back spine first. The longer spine basically locks the fish into its hole so no predator can get it out unless it puts down the spine. The smaller spine acts like a “trigger” letting the larger spine fold back. There are several stories of people trying to remove a fish that was “stuck” in a hole only to find out later it was a triggerfish locking itself in. In the picture above, the fish’s spines are folded down

As for the word “clown” in this fish’s name, it is probably pretty easy to tell the origin of it due to the all the bright colors and patterns on the fish.


Almost all of my sources say that these animals can reach up to 20 inches (50 cm) long. One of them says that they are normally about 18 inches (46 cm) long. This measurement is the only one I was able to find for the clown triggerfish. Based on the ratio of the fish’s length to height in the picture above, I would guess that they could reach about 9 inches (23 cm) tall.


Although it does not look like it, clown triggerfish actually have very sharp teeth. They use these to feed on ocean animals that most other fish would be unable to eat. These include crabs, urchins, shellfish, and coral. They do eat softer food such as mollusks, shrimp, algae, and fish. Clown triggerfish use their sharp front eight teeth to penetrate any hard shells, and their back six teeth are molar-like and are used to grind up food. The Fort Wayne’s Children’s Zoo, which has some of these fish, feeds them scallops, small fish, shrimp, squid, krill, and vegetables. Most of this fish’s diet is made up of other animals, but they also consume a small amount of plant matter. In captivity, they can be tame enough to be hand fed, but their sharp teeth may pose some danger.

One interesting hunting technique these fish have is the way they find prey that is hidden under sand. If they sense there might be an animal hiding there, they will blow a quick jet of water at the hiding spot disturbing their next meal and blowing all the sand off it.

Habitat and range

Clown triggerfish live in the Indian and Pacific oceans. They do live off the coasts of Africa as well as near Japan, Indonesia, and many of the small Pacific islands, however they do not live near Australia. Because of the defense mechanism these fish have that I talked about above, they prefer to live in places with a lot of holes to hide in. Typically coral reefs fit this description well, and they also have a lot of food here. Clown triggerfish usually live in these coral reefs and other coastal areas. They rarely go deeper than about 250 feet (75 m) below the surface.

Status and threats

IUCN has not listed this species, but they are of very low concern. Due to the defense mechanism the clown triggerfish have, they are not threatened severely by other animals, although they are sometimes consumed by sharks and other large fish. Humans do not fish for these triggerfish to eat because they are common carriers of food-borne illness. People do capture them for use in the pet trade though.

Reproduction and young

Clown triggerfish live in harems of one male and two to five females. The females are ready to lay eggs for the first time at one year old. They lay the eggs in a hole they dig in the sand on the ocean floor. The male then fertilizes the eggs in the holes dug by each female. After this, the male watches and protects the eggs for the eight days it takes the eggs to hatch. Once the young clown triggerfish hatch, they will swim down into deeper water where the females take care of them. The young stay deep down until they are old enough to take care of themselves. This is until they are about 7 inches (17.8 cm) long. These fish can live up to 20 years in the wild.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

mystery animal


Photo credits:

  • Clown triggerfish – H. Zell
  • Mystery animal – Nacionalni park Una
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