Here at Roots, the Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri) is the focus of a lot of our team’s project work. Mark and Lucy are both studying this small, predatory fish for their Honours project and Roots resident Guy Henderson is investing them further for his PhD here in Egypt. The Freckled Hawkfish, sometimes known as the black-sided hawkfish, is native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean, and has a range that stretches from the coasts of East Africa all the way to Southern Japan.
The Freckled Hawkfish is commonly found in clear lagoons and seaward reefs, at depths up to 40m, so they’re a common find for our team on the Roots’ house reef. The adults are easily identified by their black bodies, freckled faces and yellow stripes. Juvenile hawkfish tend to be lighter brown and much smaller, making them easy to distinguish from the adults. These predatory fish feed on other, smaller fish, and occasionally small shrimp, and lie in wait on the heads of coral such as Stylophora, Pocillopora and Acropora, propping itself up using it’s stiff, pectoral fins. This is also a territorial demonstration; hawkfish can be very aggressive towards other fish, and tend to perch on coral, guarding their territory.
Normally, one territorial hawkfish male will maintain a harem of females. The hawkfish is a sequential hermaphrodite: adults start life as females but if there is no longer a dominant male present, the largest female in a group will change sex. The Freckled Hawkfish spawns at night; it floats at the water’s surface while releasing numerous tiny buoyant eggs that take approximately three weeks to hatch. In some species of hawkfish, “sneaker males” will pose as females and raid a dominant male’s harem of females for a quick spawn.
The name ‘hawkfish’ derives from their habit of perching on outermost branches of coral heads or other prominent areas where they lie in wait for prey. Due to this habit of settling on protruding structures for extended periods of time, hawkfish are relatively easy to spot and to approach which makes them an ideal species to research.