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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrate > fishes
Family Atherinidae
updated Sep 2020

if you learn only 3 things about them ...
They are slender and silvery, often bluish.
They feed on tiny animals in the water (not on the sea bottom).
They are important prey for larger fishes and sea birds.

Where seen? These flashy little fishes are commonly seen on many of our Southern shores, near living reefs. Usually in groups of small numbers, zipping about near the water surface, especially at night. Sometimes, large schools are seen from a boardwalk. In our mangroves, they may school in the hundreds and sometimes seen leaping out of the water to escape underwater prey.

What are silversides?
Silversides belong to Family Atherinidae. According to Fishbase: The family has 25 genera and 165 species in tropical and temperate waters. Most are marine although there are about 50 species confined to freshwater and some can move from the sea into freshwater.

Features: 3-10cm long. These indeed silvery fishes are small, slender and streamlined, with large eyes and relatively large scales. They have small mouths that are upturned toward the water surface. They have two widely separated dorsal fins. They usually have a distinct darker band along the middle of the body from head to tail. Often seen in groups, sometimes in large schools. They are also called hardyheads.

Tropical silversides (Atherinomorus duodecimalis): Those seen 3-6cm long, grows to about 10cm. Streamlined torpedo-shaped with large eyes. Colours silvery grey, bluish to bright blue. Usually with a narrow silvery line along the length of the side of the body.

Sometimes confused with other small silvery fishes. More on how to tell apart small silvery fishes.

Pulau Semakau, Aug 14

Tanah Merah, Dec 11

Sometimes large schools are seen.
Chek Jawa, Jan 10

The school, seen from the boardwalk.
Chek Jawa, Jan 10
What do they eat? Many feed on zoo plankton or other tiny creatures that live in the water column (as opposed to on the sea bottom). Being so numerous, they are important prey for other larger fishes, other marine life and sea birds.

Other fishes prey on them.
Sisters Island, Aug 09

Carpet anemones are among their predators.
Kusu Island, Jun 12

Swimming crabs also eat them.
Kusu Island, Sep 10
Photo shared by James Koh on flickr.

Human uses: Only a few species of this Family are large enough to be valuable as human food. Smaller ones maybe used as bait or pet food.

*Species are difficult to positively identify without close examination.
On this website, they are grouped by external features for convenience of display.

Tropical silversides on Singapore shores
On wildsingapore flickr

Other sightings on Singapore shores

Pulau Sekudu, Jul 20
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on facebook.

Terumbu Semakau, Jul 14
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on flickr.

Pulau Biola, Jan 22
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on facebook.


Family Atherinidae recorded for Singapore
from Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.
*from WORMS

  Family Atherinidae
  Atherinia forskali=*Atherinomorus lacunosus

Atherinomorus duodecimalis
(Tropical silverside)
Atherinomorus lacunosus

Hypoatherina valenciennei



  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Allen, Gerry, 2000. Marine Fishes of South-East Asia: A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Periplus Editions. 292 pp.
  • Kuiter, Rudie H. 2002. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia: A Comprehensive Reference for Divers & Fishermen New Holland Publishers. 434pp.
  • Lieske, Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral Reef Fishes of the World Periplus Editions. 400pp.

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