What Is A Goatfish? – 5 Amazing Facts You Should Know


Last updated on August 7th, 2022 at 07:30 pm

The name goatfish comes from the goat-like beard that goats have (yes, we’re talking about their beards). For the sake of this article, we’ll use the common names goatfish and snuffbox interchangeably because they both refer to members of the fish family Mullidae, which also includes popular aquarium fish such as blue tangs and butterflyfish. You may notice that it has similarities to these fish as well as parrotfish, wrasses, and even sea horses.

The goatfish family, Mullidae, contains more than 75 species of fish worldwide and more than 20 species in Florida alone, making it one of the most diverse families in the state. Despite the name, they are not goats; they are marine perciformes that share a common ancestry with sea basses and porgies but have their own distinct characteristics that set them apart from their cousins.

The common name, goatfish, comes from their odd heads, which resemble those of goats—another example of convergent evolution in the wild.

The word goatfish is actually misleading since these fish aren’t really goats. They belong to a different family of fish—the Mullidae family—and there are several species of the fish.

Goatsuckers and hardheads, which look very similar to one another but are actually unrelated species, are both subspecies of fish in the genus Archosargus, while common spottybacks and yellowfin goatfishes are classified as Parupeneus (meaning false goat). An elongated dorsal fin runs along each side of a goatfish’s body; however, they have no anal fins.

What is a goatfish?

The goatfish is a small family of fish with about 30 different species, all of which are popular in the aquarium trade for their unique looks and interesting personalities. The name comes from the fish’s unusual jaw-shape, which gives it a beard-like appearance similar to that of an old billy goat.

While some fish are best kept in large community tanks where they can keep smaller fish as pets, they prefer to be kept in pairs or small groups in species-only aquariums.

Origin and descriptions


The goatfish originated from Japan and was first introduced to America in 1958. They are closely related to parrot fish, and they are sometimes referred to as surgeonfish because of their scalpel-like snout. They also share some physical traits with seahorses because of their spiny fins and trunk-like tails.

When fully grown, they can be anywhere from 6 to 12 inches long; however, when it’s young, they have a feathery appearance which makes them look like an algae filament or kelp noodle floating through the water.

Unfortunately, due to its gentle nature and attractive features, goatfish often become bait for spearfishing competitions. Conservation efforts have been made on both local and international levels to protect these interesting fish, and hobbyists who want them should make sure they get their pets from reputable breeders (the pet industry is currently facing challenges that threaten certain animals’ welfare).

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Species profile


The goatfish are a family (Mullidae) of ray-finned fish, containing about 150 species. They are also called golden basses or copper sweepers. They inhabit warm and temperate marine waters, mostly in tropical to subtropical regions, with most species restricted to reefs.

They are elongated, laterally compressed fishes adapted for life on coral reefs. Their head and body may be covered by a protective armor of thorns which can inflict painful wounds on unsuspecting humans who handle them carelessly; therefore they should not be picked up with bare hands.

Some species have venomous spines on their dorsal fins which can cause painful but harmless stings if handled; other species lack these spines altogether but still have sharp thorns all over their bodies.


The goatfish species thrive in coral reefs and rocky bottoms, but they may also be found near jetties, piers, and mangroves. They are very hardy fish and have been known to inhabit waters with high salinity content. They are often described as outgoing fish that tend to feed in groups of their own kind.

However, they will fight other aggressive species when there is limited space or food supply available. Some species have been known to change color according to mood or environment.

Goatfish size

The average size of an adult goatfish can range from 8 to 13 inches.

Goatfish tank size

Depending on which species you choose, your tank size should be between 20 and 50 gallons. A 20-gallon tank will work well for dwarf species of goatfish. For larger ones such as Labridae or subfamily Mullidae species, a 30 to 40 gallon tank should suffice for one specimen; however, most experts recommend a larger tank, 50 gallons, for these fish. Generally speaking, keep in mind that they have extremely active swimming patterns and need plenty of room to move around.

Tank set up

Being an aggressive species of fish, it’s best to keep only one per tank as it will become highly territorial. If you wish to keep more than one in a single aquarium, they must be added at different times. It’s important to provide them with plenty of hiding spaces, such as rockwork and caves.

A good choice for goatfish is heavily planted tanks with water between 75 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit. They prefer hard alkaline water that is free from chemicals or salt, so additives like Marine Salt Mix should not be used when setting up their tank. Their natural diet consists of crustaceans, mollusks, and small fishes so feedings containing these foods can consist of dried shrimp, krill, and Mysis shrimp.

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Goatfish tank mates

The goatfish’s peaceful nature makes it one of the best candidates for community tanks. When choosing other fish, goatfishes should not be kept with large, aggressive, or territorial fish such as jaguars, jack dempseys, and large cichlids. For best results, keep only one goatfish per tank. Adding multiple goatfishes to your aquarium will result in vicious fights and injury to each other if insufficient space is provided.

Some of the best tank mates are other peaceful fish such as clown loaches, small catfish, rainbow sharks, and most tetras. However, these should be added after acclimation to avoid undue stress on your new addition. If you wish to add an active bottom feeder with goatfishes, try keeping ottos or tubifex worms with them since they consume excess food particles your goatfish may miss when grazing at the surface.



To breed goatfishes, you’ll want to set up an aquarium that replicates their natural habitat as closely as possible. Start by making sure you have plenty of live rock and corals in your aquarium for food supply. Also make sure to have lots of nooks and crannies for hiding places if you have more than one fish, as they do best when kept in small groups (usually two or three).

Another thing to consider is adding external filtration such as a canister filter so that there is less disturbance inside your tank; since goatfishes rely on camouflage for protection, you don’t want to create too much activity. If possible, get at least six inches of saltwater per fish, goatfishes are very active swimmers who like long hours outside of caves so they can fully explore their environment.

The pair will spawn on top of plants or rocks and lay their eggs there. Keep watch so you can remove eggs as soon as they are laid to prevent them from being eaten by other fish in your tank. If you want to raise baby goatfish, they require lots of hiding places like caves, rocks, or plants so they don’t get eaten by larger fish in your tank.

Also, remember that baby goatfish require smaller food because it doesn’t take much for them to fill up. Once young fry reaches about two inches long, it is safe to add them to your adult tank. You can sex young goatfish when they reach about one inch long.

Are goatfish aggressive or peaceful?

The goatfish tends to be relatively peaceful, and will not act in an aggressive manner towards other fish. It will sometimes get territorial with others of its own species, so if you plan on keeping more than one of these fish in your tank, make sure that they are either of different sexes or at least very young. If they are adults, then you should keep just one in your tank, as it is unlikely that they will not accept each other unless they are a mated pair.

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Goatfish care


The goatfish (Mullidae) is not hard to take care of as long as it has room for swimming. The tank should be kept well-covered because it will jump out of an uncovered tank. But you shouldn’t keep your goatfish in tanks with other fish that are too big or aggressive because they will harm your fish.

A 30 gallon aquarium should be sufficient for one or two small specimens. It should have some live rock and artificial coral decorations but can also use synthetic alternatives like rocks and shells from its native area. There should be a couple of places where it can hide, including undergravel caves, if possible. It eats algae and zooplankton so you’ll need something like sea cucumbers and snails to help make enough algae; otherwise, feed algae wafers or spirulina flakes. Remember that algae must grow before your goatfish can eat it!

What do goatfish eat?

They eat algae and small invertebrates that live on reefs, such as crabs and other crustaceans. Some larger species will also eat snails and anemones. In captivity, they should be fed marine algae-based foods twice daily in an amount that they can consume within one minute or less. The exact amount will vary depending on the species of goatfish being kept as some have different dietary needs.

Water parameters

what do goatfish eat

The goatfish will live in any aquarium as long as it contains well-oxygenated, slightly brackish water. The ideal pH level should be between 6.5 and 7.5, with specific gravity at 1.005 to 1.015, so it may be necessary to adjust your tank’s water chemistry before introducing your fish if you plan on keeping them with other fish species.

Keep an eye out for signs of stress such as clamped fins and lethargy. If you notice either of these symptoms, consider lowering or raising your tank temperature by just one degree per day until you see some improvement. Keep in mind that each temperature change will take several days to take effect; changes too quickly can easily stress out your goatfish!


The average lifespan of a goatfish in captivity is about to 10 to 12 years

Parasites and diseases

They are prone to ich if not treated properly. They have been known to get marine ich, black spot disease, and velvet. This can all be avoided with proper care and treatment by an expert. It is best to quarantine any new additions before introducing them into your main tank as they may introduce diseases and parasites which will kill your other fish.

Bicolor Goatfish (Parupeneus Barberinoides)

Always take new arrivals back to your local aquarium store for treatment before putting them in with your established tank members. Most places will do it for free since they want you to come back in! While at their place ask questions and learn as much as you can about these beautiful fish!


You’ll want to ensure that you have no other marine predators in your aquarium. Goatfish are only safe with fish species of similar size, as they are small and do not fare well against bigger predators. Not to mention that many of these species have spines on their back, so you would definitely want to make sure they’re not coming into contact with any sharp-toothed tank mates.

Like other tangs, goatfishes have few natural predators, with humans being one of their biggest.

Large Angelfish (such as Pygoplites diacanthus), jacks, snappers, and lancetfish are all known to attack goatfishes and may eat them if they can catch them.

Goatfish facts

  • The true goatfishes are perciform marine fish of the family Mullidae, some of which are known as sea-goats.
  • These fish have a characteristic erectile beard (one on each side of their jaw), their bodies covered with protrusible scales which are called goat’s hair, and four to seven dorsal spines (depending on species).
  • The first spine has a venom gland at its base, making it capable of delivering painful and sometimes dangerous puncture wounds.
  • At least ninety species of goatfish live in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, from latitudes as far north as Greenland to Macquarie Island in New Zealand, from seabed habitats out to beyond 200 m depth.
  • They are found in both open water and shallow lagoons.

Do goatfishes make good pets?

Yes, goatfishes make great pets because they can be trained to feed on your hand. They are also beautiful and interesting creatures and are ideal for those who like living things that require very little space or upkeep. However, they do eat live fish so may not be suitable for all households.