When friends post pictures on Facebook with fish that they do not know the identification of, I can’t help but drop whatever I am doing and try to identify.
So was the story with the above picture. My friend, Ori, was diving in Sinai and snapped the above picture of this black and white fish. It has everything one needs to ID; colors, patterns, and visible mouth and fins.
Color and pattern are not very good things to start with because they can change with age, sexual maturity, time of day, gender, and mood; but I’m not going to lie, I started my search on Google with “red sea black and white fish,” which turned up…
So then I really looked at the shape of the fish, specifically the mouth and fins. This is where you need to know a little about fish morphology and where things get confusing with this particular fish. The caudal (fancy name for tail) fin is snapper/grunt-ish (slightly forked), while the mouth looks more like a drum (rounded nose with small mouth near bottom of face). I started with drums because here in the Atlantic, we have the Spotted Drum which has similar patterns including stripes and spots. Back to Google with “red sea drum fish”…
Even less helpful than before….
So I tried going for the caudal fin with “red sea black and white grunts” because grunts are more likely to be striped and the size of the fish in question; nothing. Let’s try “red sea black and white snapper”…
At this point, I have just about given up. As a scrolled down, I found this:
The face it right, but the tail is all wrong! This fish has a paddle tail while our fish has a forked tail. But hey, I have no other leads, so let’s check this out. Delve a little into the black hole of the internet and I find that the above picture is a juvenile black and white snapper (Macolor niger). So I then looked up what adult black and white snapper look like.
Dear God that is an ugly fish. But it does answer my question, kinda. It tells us that this fish changes drastically with age. Many books only document juvenile and adult phases for fish; only fish that change gender will have a known intermediate stage. Here goes nothing; “intermediate black and white snapper.” Along with some diagrams of snowthrowers, I found a couple pictures of our fish!
When trying to identify fish, never forget that they can change color, pattern, size, and in some cases, even shape!
Scuba Girl Lizzie an Ocean Scientist and Safety Officer. She is currently working as assistant Safety Officer on the crew of the Aquarius Reef Base underwater habitat. She can be emailed at: “firstname.lastname@example.org”