Harlequin bass

December 8, 2011, 4:51 pm
Content Cover Image

Harlequin bass. Photo by Florent Charpin. reefguide.org

The harlequin bass (scientific name: Serranus tigrinus) is a member of the grouper/seabass family (Family Serranidae) that lives on coral reefs in the Western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.


caption Harlequin bass. Source: ''Reef Fish Identification'', New World Publications © 1994.


Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum:--- Chordata
Class:------ Osteichthyes (Bony Fishes)
Order:-------- Perciformes
Family:-------- Serranidae (Groupers/seabasses)
Species:----------Serranus tigrinus (Bloch, 1790)

Physical Description

Harlequin bass range from six to 29 centimeters in length.  Their long thin bodies, whitish above and yellowish below, are dissected by a series of dark bars producing the "harlequin" pattern that gives them their name.  Their heads are more pointed than other members of the family.


They are found in the Western Atlantic from Bermuda and southern Florida, USA to northern South America, and throughout the Caribbean Sea.


Harlequin bass live on coral reefs, chiefly at depths from zero to 40 meters and are usually found in areas with rocks or scattered coral.

Feeding Behavior

They are generalist carnivores who mainly feed on shrimps as well as crabs, mantid shrimps, and small fishes. They usually feed in pairs that sometimes hunt cooperatively by approaching a potential prey from opposite directions and attacking at the same time which chases the prey towards one or the other member of the pair.


Harlequin bass spend their days in mated-pairs feeding in territories averaging about 57 square meters in size. Unpaired adults live in much smaller territories while juveniles live in small weakly-defended areas near hiding crevices.


Harlequin bass are monogamous, and they live with their mates in defended territories used for feeding and reproduction. Breeding takes place throughout the year and activity reaches a peak just before and after the full moon. Harlequin bass are simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means that they can reproduce as males and females. Fishes in a pair undergo “egg-trading” in which they reproduce as both males and females in separate spawning events. Spawning occurs in the water column just before sunset. After the eggs hatch the larvae enter the pelagic stage before they settle on the reef.

Conservation Status

The harlequin bass is not considered to be a species at imminent risk of extinction; however, threats to degradation of coral reefs in the western Atlantic, including the Caribbean Basin, place pressure on this reef dwelling species population.

References and Further Reading

  • Encyclopedia of Life. curator: C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Serranus tigrinus (Bloch, 1790)
  • P.Humann and N.Deloach (Editor), 1994. Reef Fish Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, FL. ISBN: 1878348078 Deloach, N. 1999.
  • Reef Fish Behavior, Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, FL. ISBN: 1878348280


McGinley, M. (2011). Harlequin bass. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/153254


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