The hawkfish – Cirrhitidae – is a family of tropical fish dwelling mainly the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific area and the eastern part of the Atlantic Ocean. The family comprises 12 genera and more than 30 species, all of them able to perch on top of the corals or rocks in their habitat – a position that makes them look like hawks monitoring their territory for prey, hence the name.
Most species in the family are small, reaching a maximum of 50 cm in length in adulthood. They all have 26-28 vertebrae, a dorsal fin made of 10 spines, with a tiny membrane, a tuft or feather-like appendage at the tip,11-17 soft rays, large heads with sharp teeth and a long, thick body. Most of them are colorful, with lighter colored bodies that feature red, orange or pink patterns, while others feature uniform red or orange coloring all over their bodies. Their pectoral fins are thick, which allows them to stay fixed on corals or stones even when the currents around them are strong.
Hawkfishes are solitary creatures, but some species are known to live in pairs or to form harems, with one dominant male and up to seven females. They spend most of their day motionless on the rocks or corals, at a maximum depth of 30 m, moving only to catch their food. They feed on small invertebrates, such as crustaceans, which they grab darting out quickly from their hiding places when the prey swims by.
Despite most Cirrhitidae being diurnal, which means that they are active during the day and they sleep during the night, reproduction takes place only by night. They proliferate by spawning, the females releasing their eggs into the water and the males fertilizing the free-flowing eggs. The fertilized eggs keep floating in the water for another two or three weeks, until the time comes for them to hatch. The relatively long period spent as floating eggs accounts for the wide distribution of these fish species across the world’s seas and oceans – the buoyant eggs travel long distances with the currents and, after hatching, the young individuals settle in the area where they have hatched. Hawkfish (Cirrhitidae) are capable of protogynous hermaphroditism, meaning that adult females are able to transform into males if the super-male in their harem or in their habitat dies.