The Goatfish Family – Mullidae
The fish of the Goatfish or Mullidae Family are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as chivos. They are small to moderately-sized fish with the largest being 55 cm (21.7 inches) in length; most are about half that size. There are fifty-five species of Goatfish divided in six genera with the majority being found in the Indo-West Pacific. They are a circumglobal, tropical, and subtropical family and are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.
Goatfish have elongated slightly compressed bodies. The undersides of their head and belly are flat and they have two long barbels on their chin, a key to identification. Their eyes are set high on the head; they have a small mouth that is protrusible and features small villiform or conical teeth. Their caudal fin is forked. They have two widely spaced dorsal fins, the first with 7 or 8 spines and the second with one spine and 8 soft rays and large pelvic fins located just before the pectoral fin base. They are covered with large rough scales.
Goatfish are red, orange, golden or brownish with juveniles being sandy or blue in color. Their bodies have colored markings including longitudinal bands or stripes in yellow, orange, red, brown or black and colored spots or blotches. Their fins may have bands, stripes or bars. Most Goatfish species can be differentiated by their color.
Goatfish are benthic and live in coastal waters at depths up to 350 feet. Their barbels have sensory organs utilized for finding food, which consists mainly of small bottom-living animals such as crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and other small invertebrates. During the day, Goatfish form large non-feeding schools comingling with other species and can change color to blend into the school. At night, they feed as individuals. Males also use their barbels to attract females during courtship. When not in use, the barbels are tucked tightly under the chin. Goatfish are pelagic spawners releasing buoyant eggs that travel the currents until hatching.
Goatfish are valued food fish in many countries. In ancient Rome, two species of Goatfish were sought-after and deemed to be a delicacy for aesthetic pleasure, since the fish have a variety of colors. Being served alive, the fish would change into various shades as they died before the eyes of the guests.
Five Goatfish reside in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific. Two are currently included in this website, both from the Pacific.