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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrata > fishes
Family Triacanthidae
updated Oct 2016

if you learn only 3 things about them ...
These fishes can be tiny and well camouflaged. Watch your step!
They do indeed have three spines.
Don't take the fish out of the water or it may die.

Where seen? These flat silvery fishes with surprising pointy spines can sometimes be commonly seen on our Northern shores, among seagrasses. Some may be tiny (less than 3cm) and being flat, virtually disappear when seen from above. Larger ones may be seen in streams flowing out of the mangroves during low tide.

What are tripodfishes?
Tripodfishes belong to Family Triacanthidae. According to FishBase: the family has 4 genera and 7 species. They are found in the Indo-Pacific area.

Tripodfish features:
6-25cm. Body extremely flattened sideways, somewhat rhombus-shaped and silvery. The scales are tiny and almost impossible to see with the naked eye. The gill opening is a small vertical slit.

The fish does indeed have a tripod made out of a pair of long, rigid pelvic fins and the tail fin. In addition, it also has a stiff dorsal fin spine and stiff spines on the pelvic fins. It can raise all these spines to make it difficult for a predator to swallow it. Its scientific name comes from the Greek 'tri' which means 'three' and 'akantha' which means 'thorn'.

Tripodfish are adapted for sandy or muddy coastal areas. Here, they hunt for small fish and bottom-dwelling animals, sucking these up with their pointed mouths.

Human uses: Tripodfish are generally not considered good eating. When caught by trawlers together with other more marketable fish, tripodfish are considered trash. They are wastefully thrown back, often dead. In some places, however, such 'trash' fish are converted into fish meal or fertiliser. One species, the Short-nosed tripodfish (Triacanthus biaculeatus) is said to be used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Status and threats: Our Tripodfishes are not listed among the threatened animals of Singapore. However, l
ike other creatures of the intertidal zone, they are affected by human activities such as reclamation and pollution.

Disappears when seen from above!
Changi, Jun 05

Chek Jawa, Nov 03

About 2cm long, this juvenile has flaps
on its pointed fins.
Changi, Aug 05

Chek Jawa, Apr 04

Chek Jawa, Feb 06

Cyrene Reef, May 11
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on flickr.

Pasir Ris, May 09
Shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his blog.

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

Tripodfishes on Singapore shores

Photos of Tripodfishes for free download from wildsingapore flickr

Distribution in Singapore on this wildsingapore flickr map

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

  Family Triacanthidae
  Pseudotriacanthus strigilifer

Triacanthus brevirostris=**Triacanthus biaculeatus
Triacanthus nieuhofii
Triacanthus oxycephalus=**Tripodichthys oxycephalus

Tripodichthys blochii
(Longtail tripodfish)



  • 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.
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