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

Where seen? This strange vertical fishes are sometimes seen on some of our Southern shores at low tide, in deep pools such as in swimming lagoons, among coral rubble or in seagrass meadows. They are also encountered by divers in deeper waters. Elsewhere, they may be found in muddy bottoms near mangroves to inshore reefs. They often swim head down, presenting a narrow vertical profile that is unfish-like.

What are razorfishes?
Razorfishes belong to Family Centriscidae. According to FishBase: there are 5 genera and 15 species, and these are found in the Indo-Pacific. They are sometimes also called Shrimpfishes, probably because at first glance they look more like shrimps than fishes.

Those seen 6-10cm, up to 15cm long. Body long pointed on both ends, flattened knife-like with narrow pointed snout and small toothless mouth. Upper side covered in transparent thin plate-like armour that are extensions of the vertebrate. The first dorsal spine is long and sharp and located at the end of the body. There are two short spines next to it. In Aoeliscus the dorsal spine is hinged, and thus moveable. When the spine is bent, it looks like the fish broke its tail. While in those of the genus Centriscus, the dorsal spine is fixed and rigid. Razorfishes have fins, but these are tiny and transparent, the dorsal and tail fins under the spine.

Sometimes mistaken for other fishes that resemble sticks and twigs. Here's more on how to tell apart stick-like fishes commonly seen on our shores.

In a group, head down.
Pulau Hantu, Feb 06

Tanah Merah, Jun 12

Hinged dorsal spine. Tiny, transparent fin.
Camou Colours: Their colours may change depending on their surroundings. Some are greenish-yellow with diffused stripe among seagrasses. Pale with a black stripe on open sand or rubble. Colours seen on our shores include blackish, brown, yellowish and pale silvery.

Not fishy! They don't look or behave like a typical fish, and thus often overlooked. They usually swim head down in small synchronised groups, often among the spines of large sea urchins such as the Long-spined sea urchin or over branching hard corals and sea whips. But they do swim horizontally and can make a swift getaway.

Cyrene, May 08

One, next to a sea fan.
Tuas, Jun 15

What do they eat? Razorfishes eat tiny planktonic crustaceans and zoo plankton, sucking these up with the small toothless mouth. The mouth is at the tip of a long, tube-like snout.

Human uses: These bizarre fishes are sometimes taken for the live aquarium trade. Some species are harvested and ground up into fishmeal.

Razorfishes on Singapore shores
On wildsingapore flickr

Other sightings on Singapore shores

Chek Jawa, Jun 21
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on facebook.
Chek Jawa, Jun 23
Photo shared by Kelvin Yong on facebook.

Chek Jawa, Jun 21
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on facebook.

Tanah Merah, Aug 09
Photo shared by James Koh on his blog.

Tanah Merah, Oct 09
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on his flickr.

East Coast PCN, Jul 20
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on facebook.

Kusu Island, Jul 11
Photo shared by James Koh on flickr.

Labrador, Sep 19
Photo shared by Liz Lim on facebook.

Pulau Hantu, Aug 15
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on flickr.

Pulau Hantu, Jul 20
Photo shared by Vincent Choo on facebook.

Terumbu Raya, Jun 15
Photo shared by Toh Chay Hoon on facebook.

Terumbu Semakau, Nov 12
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on flickr.

Pulau Semakau North, Jul 20
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on facebook.

Beting Bemban Besar, May 17
Photo shared by Toh Chay Hoon on facebook.

Terumbu Bemban, Aug 23
Photo shared by Richard Kuah on facebook.

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

  Family Centriscidae
  Aeoliscus strigatus (Longspined razorfish)

Centriscus scutatus



  • Toh Chay Hoon. 7 March 2015. Longspine razorfish (Aeoliscus strigatus) at Pulau Hantu. 7 Mar 2014. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2014: 63
  • 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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