There are Goatfishes in
tropical to temperate seas in shores and reefs
of Asia, Europe, North America and Australia.
They are common as individuals, small groups of
single species and occasionally shoals of dozens
to hundreds of individuals.
Some goats achieve a good
eighteen inches in the wild, most aquarium ones
stop at about six inches.
Selection: General to
Picking out a healthy
specimen is a breeze with Goatfishes; they're
either "A" number one grade, ready to go; or
flat out dead or dying. Look at the specimen/s
on hand; they'll be either swimming or huddling
together along some structure, or on their way
to fishy-heaven with off color (typically red)
blotching with X's on their eyes.
Collecting Your Own
Can be done if you're in the
area; via small hook and line, baited with a
meaty treat, or chased into a barrier/mist net.
Any "fish-only" system of
adequate size will do; I would provide a good
ten gallons of space per each small specimen,
twenty or more for every medium to larger one.
A word of caution re covering
your system with these fishes; they jump; I
mean, like Polaris missiles. Keep it covered.
And why not a Goatfish in
your fish and invertebrate, or full-blown reef
tank? I have seen this done with very small
Mullids, and with definite benefits in terms of
keeping the substrate loose, and definitely
removing unwanted bristle worms, small mantis
shrimps, et al.. The problem enters when and
where the goatfish keeps eating... as in your
desirable (read that as expensive) livestock.
Forewarned is forearmed, so beware. It is my
opinion that these fishes are great for
aquariums, but just fish-only aquariums.
The group as a whole are very
undemanding; standard marine aquarium conditions
suit them fine.
There is one other aspect of
goatfish biology that merits mentioning, the
strange case of their ichthyoalleinotoxic
property. Yes, these fishes are known to be
hallucinogenic! No, I'm not making this up, or
smoking goatfish or anything else; the
goatfishes do induce odd sensory perceptions
during certain seasons, and are consumed
knowingly. Not only have I read of such goings
on, but have munched on them myself in the
Yucatan (Mexico), Moorea (French Polynesia), and
the Visayas (Philippines), among other places I
can't seem to recall, with subsequent "tingling"
feelings and a sense of general
Should be vigorous, not only because of
goatfish activity and waste production, but to
supply adequate oxygen and removal of dust and
mulm kicked up by barbel and mouth digging.
To keep a Goatfish happy you
will want an open area for foraging. For both
your sakes, supply a suitably substrate; not too
fine or given to dissolving easily so that the
goats stirring and digging don't cloud the tank.
Placing your Goatfish/es can
be as unceremonious as you want it to be; many
wholesalers dispense with regular dip and
quarantine procedures with these fishes; I would
not. Just to make sure you're not slipping in an
infectious or parasitic disease, a freshwater
dip of a few minutes duration will serve to
eliminate most transmissions.
For the most part the
goatfishes are so fast and agile that wannabe
predators don't have a change; alternately, they
can be trusted to leave other livestock alone
with one caveat; everything smaller than their
curious mouths, will be tried... These animals
are carnivorous/omnivorous, and will try to eat
any ingestible fish, invertebrate, rock(!).
Typically Goatfish are found in close
association with other foraging reef fishes, the
others attending as their digging "pal" unearths
the next meal. By and large Goatfishes are not
agonistic toward other too-large-to-swallow
tankmates or conspecifics.
Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes
How do you tell when your
Goatfish is dead? It's not eating, or looking
for food. Seriously, there are no more eager
feeders than the Mullids; they greedily accept
any and all forms of prepared and fresh foods.
Thank goodness that the "goats" typically live
near the bottom, otherwise your other livestock
would likely wither from lack of nutrition.
Should your Goatfish become
more of a "hog" (apologies to Bodianus
owners), you might want to develop a feeding
strategy of pushing a food item on a "stick"
down to the Goat/s while proffering other
food elsewhere for the rest of your aquatic
Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social
The family is remarkably
disease-free, and typically succumbs last to
large-scale infections in a system. They are
however quite susceptible to isopod
infestations. These "pill-bug" relatives are
grayish crustaceans frequently found on the
backs and inside the mouths of newly imported
specimens. Should you discover some of these
Rolly-Pollies, they can be easily removed via
The Goatfishes, to know them
is to love or at least appreciate them. Looking
for an interesting cleaner-upper to keep things
lively in your tank? Search no further than the
Mullids; they're tough, beautiful and easy to
Burgess, W.E., H.R. Axelrod &
R.E. Hunziker III, 1990. Atlas of Aquarium
Fishes, v. 1, Marine Fishes. T.F.H.
Herre, A.W. & H.R. Montalban,
1928. The Goatfishes, or Mullidae, of the
Philippines. The Phil. J. of Sci. v. 36, no. 1,
Michael, Scott W. 1997. The
Goatfishes. Put a Goat in your tank. AFM 1/97.