Spotted goatfish

December 5, 2011, 1:27 pm
Content Cover Image

Spotted goatfish. Photo by Laurent Charpin. reefguide.org


The spotted goatfish (scientific name: Pseudupeneus maculatus) is a member of the goatfish family (Family Mullidae) that live on coral reefs in the Western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.


caption Spottted goatfish. Source: ''Reef Fish Identification'', New World Publications © 1994


Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum:--- Chordata
Class:------ Osteichthyes (Bony Fishes)
Order:-------- Perciformes
Family:-------- Mullidae
Species:--------- Pseudupeneus maculatus (Bloch, 1793)

Physical Description

Spotted goatfish range in size from 12.5 to 30.0 centimeters in length.  Goatfish get their name from the two barbels located under the tip of their chin that they use to sense prey hidden in the sand. When they are active, spotted goatfish are white with three large black blotches beneath their dorsal fins on the upper side of their bodies.  When they are inactive, they change color to a mottled white and red pattern. They are capable of changing color patterns in less than a minute.


This species is found in the Western Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey, USA to Rio de Janerio, Brazil (including Bermuda) as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  


P. maculatus lives around coral reefs in water depths of two to 90 meters. They are usually observed swimming over sand and rock bottoms near the reef. Young juveniles often found in sea grass beds.

Feeding Behavior

Spotted goatfish are carnivores that feed on small invertebrates (e.g, worms, crustaceans, and mollusks) that they locate buried in the sand.  They use their barbels to explore the sand for their prey that they detect by touch and sense. 


When spotted goatfish are not foraging, they change to inactive coloration and rest on the sand.


Spotted goatfish are pelagic spawners that spawn in large aggregations of 300 to 400 individuals in about 20 meters of water. Their larvae enter the planktonic stage before settling on the reef, when they reach a size of four to eight millimeters. Spotted goatfish begin to breed when they reach  about seventeen to nineteen centimeters long, and they may live to be four years of age.


Carnivorous fish species, such as bar jacks and yellowtail snappers, often follow foraging spotted goatfish.  When a goatfish disturbs the sand with its barbels, it often exposes prey for other fishes.

Conservation Status

Spotted goatfish are not classified to be a species at risk.

References and Further Reading





McGinley, M. (2011). Spotted goatfish. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156224


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