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Clown Triggerfish


Quick Facts

Scientific name: Balistoides conspicillum
Class: Fish
Length: up to 20 inches (50 centimeters)
Life span: 20 years
Incubation: 8 days
Age of maturity: 1 year
Conservation status: Low concern


The water’s fine

These fish live near coral reefs in warm parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

A seafood lover

The strong jaws of the clown triggerfish enable it to crush and eat sea urchins and shelled prey like clams, snails, sea squirts, crabs and shrimp. They have teeth that never stop growing. There are eight sharp teeth at the front of the mouth, six teeth behind those and molar-like grinding teeth in the throat. At the zoo, the clown triggerfish eat scallops, capelin (a small fish), shrimp, squid, krill, aquarium flake food, brine shrimp, and vegetables.

Who are you calling a clown?

The top half of the fish is mostly black with a yellow patch containing black shapes. The bottom half is black with large white spots. Their lips are bright orange, hence the name “clown” triggerfish. There is a narrow white stripe around the mouth and another white stripe below the eyes. There is a vertical white stripe on the caudal fin. The clown triggerfish has two dorsal spines , one large and one small. Males and females look alike, but juveniles have more spots on their bodies that fade as they mature and they lack the bright-colored lips of the adult. They also tend to hide more, so they are not seen as often.

Hide and don’t seek

Clown triggerfish require lots of space with plenty of places to hide. They can lock their dorsal fins upright, enabling them to wedge themselves into holes or crevices in the coral. Even the jaws can be used to grasp the edges of the crevice to provide more security. They use this wedging tactic to spend the nights safely. Once they are wedged in, it is almost impossible for a predator to remove them. Pressing the smaller spine acts like a trigger to cause the larger one to disengage, and this is where they get the name “triggerfish.”

These clowns don’t always play nice

Clown triggerfish can become aggressive with smaller fish – sometimes nipping or even killing them. These fish are very territorial, and juveniles tend to be very secretive, spending most of their time hiding from predators. The coloration and pattern of the clown triggerfish helps confuse predators. From below, the white spots look like the water surface above the fish, while from above, the fish blends in with the coral environment.

It’s hard work being a triggerfish

Clown triggerfish sometimes grunt when escaping from predators.

A big family

Triggerfish breed in harems, a group consisting of one male and several females. The males will watch over a certain area or territory, protecting these females and their young. After the male fertilizes the eggs, the female lays them in a nest she digs in the sand. The nest is guarded by the male and he will defend it aggressively against other fish. He will continue to guard and fan the eggs until they hatch, which takes about eight days. The eggs will hatch after dark, and the young will then be cared for by the female. This spawning takes place in deep water, and the young will remain in the depths until they are big enough to be on their own.

Are you lookin’ at me?

These fish have eyes that move independently, which allows them to scan the entire reef at once, looking for food and predators. To uncover hidden prey, the clown triggerfish blows jets of water out of its mouth towards the sand.


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