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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrata > fishes
Family Siganidae
updated Oct 2020

if you learn only 3 things about them ...
They graze (on algae) just like rabbits.
They have venomous spines. Don't handle them!
They are among our favourite seafood. However, overharvesting can affect their populations.

Where seen? These fishes may be common in seagrass areas on many of our shores. They often lie quietly among seagrasses or hidden among coral rubble, relying on their camouflage to avoid detection.

What are rabbitfishes? They belong to Family Siganidae. According to FishBase: the family has 2 genera and 25 species. They are found in the Indo-Pacific and Mediterranean seas.

Features: Can be quite small (about 8cm or less) to quite large (about 15cm). It is named for its rabbit-like snout ('siganus' means 'has a nose like a rabbit') or possibly for its habit of grazing on seaweeds. It is also called Spinefoot after the spines on its pelvic fins, a unique feature of this family. It has tiny scales.

Juveniles often seen among Sargassum.
There are two here, can you spot them?
Changi, Apr 07

Spines on the dorsal fin raised: these can inject a painful venom.
Chek Jawa, Aug 02

Painful sting! The rabbitfish has spines on its fins that are grooved and contain venom glands. These spines may be found on the dorsal, anal and pelvic fins. The sting of these spines can be quite painful to humans, but is generally not fatal. The fishes use their spines in self-defence and not for hunting prey.

How to stay safe: Wear covered shoes. Don't handle rabbitfishes.

Rabbitfishes are often seen trapped in fishing nets.
Terumbu Semakau, Jun 11
What do they eat? Most rabbitfishes are herbivores, grazing on algae that grows on the sea bottom, seaweeds and seagrasses. They have small mouths with tiny teeth. They are active during the day, and sleep at night. Rabbitfishes often travel in schools, sometimes in pairs.

Human uses: The White-spotted rabbitfish (Siganus canaliculatus) is highly sought after for eating during the Chinese Lunar New Year. At this time, the fishes breed and their roe are particularly relished. Called 'Pei Tor', the Chinese believe it eating it brings good luck. Other species are important foodfishes in other parts of the world. Some of the more colourful reef rabbitfishes are also collected for the aquarium trade.

Some Rabbitfishes on Singapore shores

White-spotted rabbitfish

Orange-spotted rabbitfish

Streaked rabbitfish

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

  Family Siganidae
  Siganus canaliculatus (White-spotted rabbitfish)
Siganus chrysospilus=**Siganus punctatus
Siganus fuscescens
Siganus guttatus
(Orange-spotted rabbitfish)
Siganus javanicus
Siganus javus
(Streaked rabbitfish)
Siganus oramin=**Siganus canaliculatus
Siganus spinus
Siganus stellatus
Siganus tetrazona=**Siganus corallinus
Siganus vermiculatus
Siganus virgatus
(Double-barred rabbitfish)
Siganus vulpinus
(Foxface rabbitfish)



  • Jeffrey K. Y. Low. Foxface rabbitfish, Siganus vulpinus, in the Singapore Strait . 28 June 2019. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2019: 79 ISSN 2345-7597. National University of Singapore.
  • 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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