| Phylum Chordata
> Subphylum Vertebrata
learn only 3 things about them ...
Many fishes on our shores can bite and sting. Don't touch
There are lots of fishes on our shores, but they may be
well camouflaged or hidden. Look for them!
all fishes can be eaten safely.
Fishes can be found on all our shores. In fact, a wide variety is
often seen. However, they are sometimes hard to spot. Some may be
very small. Others well camouflaged or hidden.
What are fishes? Fishes are vertebrates
like you and me, i.e., they have a backbone and internal skeleton.
Fishes are the oldest of the living vertebrates and the most abundant
in number of species and individuals among the vertebrates. There
are about 15,000 species of marine fishes.
Fish features: Most fishes are
covered in scales. Scales, however, may be tiny as in filefishes.
Some fishes lack scales, such as the eel-tail
catfishes and moray eels.
In addition, many fishes are also coated with mucus to protect against
bacteria and other unpleasant substances in the water. The mucus of
the clown anemonefish is
believed to be important in allowing it to live among the stinging
tentacles of an anemone.
Most fishes have a swim-bladder, a gas-filled organ, that helps them
stay afloat. But fishes that live on the sea bottom sometimes lack
these, such as the gobies.
Fishes breathe with gills; feathery red structures filled with blood
which absorbs the oxygen in the water. Even mudskippers
breathe with gills, keeping a reservoir of water in their gill chambers
when they are out of water.
Fishy senses: Most fishes have
good eyesight. Eyes may not always be on both sides of the head like
in the typical fish that we eat. Gobies
that stay on the sea bottom have eyes at the top their heads to keep
a look out for danger from above. While in flatfishes,
the eyes have moved to one side of the body!
Fishes have ears and can hear underwater. Many fishes even produce
sounds, using their swim bladder to amplify the sound. Toadfishes
got their common name because they croak loudly. Fishes also sense
sound and vibrations through special sense organs arranged in a line
along the sides of their bodies, called the lateral line.
Fishes have a keen sense of smell and taste. In most fishes, smell
organs are located at the snout. Taste sensors are located in the
mouth as well as lips or on 'whiskers' (barbels) such as those in
the eel-tail catfishes. In
others these sensors are on the fins or scattered over the body. Many
fishes are also sensitive to electrical fields produced by their prey.
Some can even generate electrical currents, like the electric ray.
Swimming along: Long fishes swim
by undulating their long bodies in a snake-like manner. Eels and eel-shaped
fishes do this. Typical fish-shaped ones swim by flexing their
tail and the back end of their bodies. Some fishes like seahorses
can't move very fast and only uses their fins to stabilise themselves.
Don't eat me! Many fishes are
poisonous. Some are merely unpleasant tasting, others like the pufferfish
can be so toxic that a human can die from eating one. Some flatfishes
secrete toxins that seriously deter sharks and possibly other predators.
Yet other fishes are venomous and can inject toxins with modified
fins or spines. The stonefish
is considered the world's most venomous fish and a sting can cause
fatalities. Certainly many fishes, even small ones, can give a nasty
bite. Avoid handling fishes.
Fishy shapes: Fishes that live
in the intertidal often have shapes that are adapted to the conditions
there. In the intertidal, speed is not as vital as in the open ocean.
While many fishes seen on our shores have the 'typical fish-shape',
others have odd shapes.
Some fishes are flattened sideways, like butterflyfishes
and filefishes. This
helps them slip into narrow places and they literally disappear when
viewed from above water.
Other fishes are flat like pancakes, like stingrays
Like living carpets, these can hunt for hidden morsels in the sand
in shallow water, and to quickly bury themselves in the sand. Yet
other fishes are long and snake-like. Eels
and eel-like fishes can squirm into small places to hide and look
for food. Many are small and almost transparent such as the perchlets
also sometimes called glassfishes.
Others are masters of camouflage and blend superbly with their surroundings.
Fishes can take on many disguises. There are fishes that look like
twigs (half beaks),
plant roots (pipefishes),
seaweed covered stones (scorpionfishes
and frogfishes) or just
simply an encrusted stone (stonefish).
While many fishes hide in holes (toadfish)
or in the sand (stargazer),
the clown anemonefish finds
safety among the stinging tentacles of a sea anemone!
Fishy colours and patterns: Fishes
come in a wide range of colours and patterns. Some bright colours
warn of their distasteful nature. Colours are also used to attract
mates. Bright colours may also help them blend into the psychedelic
surroundings of the reefs. Fishes may have bars or other patterns
to break up the body outline. The butterflyfish
has a large false eye to fool predators.
What do they eat? As a group,
fishes eat a wide variety of things, from plankton and detritus, to
seaweeds and other animals. Many fishes specialise in particular prey.
It appears fishes can
track their prey by the tracks left in the water!
What eats them? In turn, a great
number of animals (including people) love to eat fish.
Role in the habitat: Fishes are
important to the health of the habitat. Fishes that graze on seaweed
allow reefs to grow or recover from damage. Without these grazing
fishes, the faster growing seaweed will overwhelm corals and other
animals. Fishes that eat other animals also maintain the balance in
the system, so that there isn't an overpopulation in their prey. Fishes
that are eaten by other animals contribute to the food chain.
Fish babies: Many reef fishes
can change gender, but are usually only one gender at a time. In many
fishes, a pair mates by releasing eggs and sperm simultaneously into
the water. Some have complicated courtship rituals. Others such as
seahorses may form long lasting monogamous pair bonds. Some fishes
look after their eggs, some like seahorses and cardinalfishes even
brood their eggs. Most simply release their eggs into the water. Most
fishes undergo metamorphosis and their larvae look nothing like their
adults. The form that first hatches from the eggs may drift with the
plankton. They eventually settle down and develop into miniatures
of their parents.
Human uses: Many fishes we seen
on our shores are among our favourite seafood. Fishermen catch them
with lines and nets. Driftnets are the most destructive way of catching
fishes as they catch everything and not just the marketable ones.
The unwanted fishes and other animals are wastefully thrown away.
Other fishes are harvested for the aquarium trade. The harvest may
involve the use of cyanide or blasting, which damage the habitat and
kill many other creatures. Like other fish and creatures harvested
from the wild, most die before they can reach the retailers. Without
professional care, most die soon after they are sold. Often of starvation
as owners are unable to provide the small creatures and plants that
these fishes need to survive. In artificial conditions, many succumb
to diseases and poor health. Those that do survive are unlikely to
Many of the fishes we commonly eat are being overfished, some to the
point of extinction. These include the tuna in our favourite sushi
dishes. Luxury fishes and fish products such as sharks fins and live
grouper are being harvested in an unsustainable way. Others such as
seahorses used in traditional chinese medicine are also globally overharvested.
Be a discerning consumer and find out more about the fishes that you
eat, how they are harvested or farmed. Adjust your consumption to
minimise the impact to global fish stocks.
Status and threats: Many of our
shore and reef fishes are listed among the threatened animals of Singapore.
They are threatened mainly by habitat loss due to reclamation or human
activities along the coast that affect the water quality. Trampling
by careless visitors and over-collection can also have an impact on
The False clown anemonefish
is more common on our shores than you might think.
Pulau Semakau, Aug 08
The seahorse is actually
Sisters Island, Dec 03
Mudskippers are fishes that
can hop around out of water!
Pulau Semakau, Dec 04
The Stonefish is the world's
most venomous fish and is quite common on our shores.
Pulau Hantu, Mar 06
Flat and tiny, this flatfish
mistaken for a flatworm!
Changi, May 05
Seamoths are strange little
fishes with 'wings'.
Chek Jawa, Apr 03
Young eel-tail catfishes swim
in a ball for safety.
Sentosa, Jun 06
are sadly often harvested from the wild for the aquarium trade.
Sentosa, Oct 03
The pretty Blue-spotted fantail ray
is sometimes seen on our reefs.
Kusu Island Jul 04
The Longhorned cowfish is
Cyrene Reef, Apr 07
marine fishes of Singapore
Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore
Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore.
Amphiprion clarkii (Clark's anemonefish) (VU: Vulnerable)
(Tomato anemonefish) (VU: Vulnerable)
(False clown anemonefish) (VU: Vulnerable)
Amphiprion polymnus (Saddleback anemonefish) (VU: Vulnerable)
Amphiprion perideraion (Pink skunk anemonefish) (VU: Vulnerable)
Fishes in general
- Lim, Kelvin
K. P. & Jeffrey K. Y. Low, 1998. A
Guide to the Common Marine Fishes of Singapore.
Singapore Science Centre. 163 pp.
- Tan, Leo
W. H. & Ng, Peter K. L., 1988. A
Guide to Seashore Life. The Singapore Science Centre,
Singapore. 160 pp.
- Ng, Peter
K. L. & N. Sivasothi, 1999. A
Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore II (Animal Diversity).
Singapore Science Centre. 168 pp.
- Some note-worthy
fishes observed in the Singapore Straits. J. K. Y. Low, Jani Isa
Thuaibah Tanzil and Zeehan Jaafar. Pp. 77-82. [PDF,
554 KB] on the Nature in
Singapore site of the Raffles
Museum of Biodiversity Research
enthusiasts have netted some huge prizes in Singapore waters
Whopper of a catch, Shuli Sudderuddin, Straits Times 15 Nov 09
on the wildsingapore news blog.
shark caught off Changi
Possible to find large sharks in local waters Teh Jen Lee, The
New Paper 5 Nov 09 AsiaOne
technical fact sheets on families and individual species with
photos and details on environment, climate, economic importance,
resilience, distribution, biology, red list status, and more.
Museum Fish Site with find-a-fish section which links to factsheets
3-6: Fishes edited by Kent E. Carpenter and Volker H. Niem
FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes: The Living
Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific on the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) website (pdf).
of Libong Island (West Coast of Southern Thailand) by Keiichi
Matsuura and Seishi Kimura (eds.) on the National Science Museum,
Tokyo website: description of family with labelled diagram of
key features and details on similar families found in the area,
factsheets of species with photos.
of Bitung (Northern Tip of Sulawesi Indonesia) by Seishi Kimura
and Keiichi Matsuura (eds.) on the National Science Museum, Tokyo
website: factsheets with photos and descriptions with details
on similar families found in the area.
Fishes of Indonesia: Field Guide to Lombok Island by Keiichi
Matsuura, Seishi Kimura and Teguh Peristiwady on the National
Science Museum, Tokyo website: factsheets with photos and descriptions
with details on similar families found in the area.
- From the
wild shores of singapore blog.
- Larson, Helen
K and Kelvin K. P. Lim. 2005. A
Guide to Gobies of Singapore. Singapore Science Centre.
- Chou, L.
M., 1998. A
Guide to the Coral Reef Life of Singapore. Singapore Science
Centre. 128 pages.
G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore
Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore.
Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
- Lim, S.,
P. Ng, L. Tan, & W. Y. Chin, 1994. Rhythm of the Sea: The Life
and Times of Labrador Beach. Division of Biology, School of
Science, Nanyang Technological University & Department of Zoology,
the National University of Singapore. 160 pp.
- Wee Y.C.
and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.
National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
- FAO Species
Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes The
Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific
- Bond, Carl
E., 1996. Biology
2nd ed. Thomson Learning Inc., 750pp.
- Allen, Gerry,
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
New Holland Publishers. 434pp.
Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral
Reef Fishes of the World
Periplus Editions. 400pp.
- Kuiter, Rudie
H., 2000 (English edition). Seahorses,
Pipefishes and their Relatives: A Comprehensive Guide to Syngnathiformes
TMC Publishing, UK. 240 pp.
John, 1999. Battle
of the Sexes in the Animal World
BBC Worldwide, London. 224 pp.