Yellow goatfish

October 17, 2011, 3:07 pm
Content Cover Image

School of yellow goatfish in shallow marine waters. Source: Bryan Harry/U.S.National Park Service

The yellow goatfish (scientific name: Mulloidichthys martinicus) is a member of the goatfish family (Family Mullidae) that inhabits coral reefs in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This colorful fish schools in saline, not brackish waters, and uses the appendages below its chin to hone in to prey locations under the sandy bottom.


Yellow 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:----------- Mulloidichthys martinicus (Cuvier, 1829)

Physical Description

Yellow goatfish range in size from five to 39 centimeters in length.  Goatfish derive their name from the two barbells located under the tip of their chin that they use to sense prey hidden in the sand.  Yellow goatfish have white bodies with a yellow stripe on their mid-body and yellow tails.


They have a subtropical (32°N - 33°S) distribution.  In the Western Atlantic they are found from Bermuda and Florida, USA to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  In the  Eastern Atlantic they have been observed in Cape Verde Islands and São Tomé Island.


They live near coral reefs in water depths between two to 65 meters. They spend their days swimming over sand and rock bottoms near the reef searching for food. Juveniles are often found in sea-grass beds.

Feeding Behavior

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


Yellow goatfish forage alone, or in small groups, near the reef.  When they are not feeding, they will often gather in large aggregations near the protection of the reef.


Yellow goatfish are pelagic spawners.  Their larvae enter the planktonic stage before settling on the reef.  Juveniles often live in sea-grass beds. 


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

Yellow goatfish may occasionally form schools with smallmouth grunts, a species similar and size and shape to the yellow goatfish.  This association has been proposed to be an example of “social protective mimicry” because both species are protected from predators while in these mixed-species schools.

Conservation Status

Yellow goatfish are not considered to be a taxon at risk.

Further Reading

  • Mulloidichthys martinicus (Cuvier, 1829)
  • Humann, P. 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


Life, E. (2011). Yellow goatfish. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/157183


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