Chinese Trumpetfish, Aulostomus chinensis
The Chinese Trumpetfish, Aulostomus chinensis, whose common Spanish name is trompeta china, is a species in the Trumpetfish or Aulostomidae Family, known collectively as trompetas in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Pacific Trumpetfish. Globally, there are three species in the genus Aulostomus, of which two are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Chinese Trumpetfish have very elongated and laterally compressed bodies with a long tubular snout. They exhibit three basic color phases: uniform gray, brown, and green; mottled gray, brown, and green; and uniform yellow. The rear portion of their body is black with white spotting. Their caudal fin is yellow with two black spots, one on top and the second below. Their pelvic fins have a basal spot. They have a strongly compressed head and a protrusible mouth. The tip of their snout has a small barbel. Their anal fin has 21 to 25 rays. Their caudal peduncle is elongated and their caudal fin is rounded. Their first dorsal fin has 8 to 12 isolated spines. Their second dorsal fin has 24 to 27 small rays and is directly above the similarly appearing, relatively high, and narrow anal fin. They have small pelvic fins mid-body located well behind the pectoral fins. They are covered with small rough scales.
The Chinese Trumpetfish are a slow-moving benthopelagic diurnal solitary species found in calm clear waters within coral and rocky reefs from the surface to depths up to 800 feet. They reach a maximum length of 80 cm (31 inches). They are ambush predator that lie in wait and feed on crustaceans and small fish. They are poor swimmers and follow larger fish via discrete and stealth tracking using them for camouflage. Reproduction is oviparous with external fertilization. Eggs and larvae are pelagic. Juveniles develop in the epipelagic zone then move to seagrass and coral reef environments. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
The Chinese Trumpetfish are widely distributed in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In Mexican waters, they have only been reported along the lower southeast coast of Baja from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas.
The Chinese Trumpetfish can be confused with the Deepwater Cornetfish, Fistularia corneta (reddish orange color; elongated tail filament), the Reef Cornetfish, Fistularia commersonii (two rows of blue spots along back), and the Tubesnout, Aulorhynchus flavidus (cylindrical body; anal and second dorsal fins set well back on body).
The Chinese Trumpetfish are of little interest to most, however, they are used on a limited basis by the aquarium trade. From a conservation perspective, they are currently considered of Least Concern, having large populations and a wide global distribution. The long-term survival of this species is of concern due to the degradation and loss of coral reefs that they regularly frequent.
Chinese Trumpetfish, Aulostomus chinensis. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Kailua-Kona, HI, October 2015. Length: 46 cm (18 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.