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The Red Sea’s warm waters and clear visibility make it an ideal destination for those looking for an adventure underwater and wanting to explore the world’s most pristine coral garden. Egypt’s 2000 km long fringing reef habitat, which was declared a Hope Spot during the COP27 Sharm El Sheikh Climate Change Conference, gives home to more than 1000 Red Sea fish species. If you are curious what is the name of the fish you can see and want to know some facts about them, here is a short description with photos of the most common ones!
Red Sea Clownfish / Anemonefish
Among the many colorful Red Sea fish species, Nemo, aka the Anemonefish is probably the most popular one. The good news is that clownfish usually live in shallow lagoons or in sheltered reefs so they are easy to find and can be seen at almost all snorkeling spots in Egypt.
They have bright colors, which vary depending on age. Adults’ tail fins have yellow coloration, while juveniles’ caudal fins are predominantly black and white.
The Red Sea clownfish has two vertical white stripes on its head and body. In contrast to most clownfish species, its head’s lines are wedge-shaped.
Anemonefish are omnivores and can feed on algae, amphipods, and polychaete worms. These Red Sea fish species are peaceful when they are young but can become territorial when they are older.
Sohal Tang / Sohal Surgeonfish
Sohal Tang catches the eye with horizontal stripes of blue and white. This species can grow to between 14″ and 16″ inches. Their compressed body shape allows them to maneuver rapidly along coral reefs.
Surgeonfish can be aggressive, especially with other Tangs but can attack humans too if they feel threatened or annoyed. They protect themselves by flicking their spines at predators or intruders, inflicting dangerous physical harm (cut) on them. They feed on a vegetarian diet (mostly algae and seaweed) but occasionally they eat meaty food, like shrimps too.
Red Sea Bannerfish
Known for its long dorsal fin, Red Sea bannerfish is a type of butterfly that is found exclusively in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Their dorsal filament is white, elongated, and striped with two broad black bands, and their eyes bear black marks.
These fish generally occur in pairs on coral reefs, though large schools have also been observed. Large schools of juveniles form on deep reefs where corals are sparse. They are omnivores but primarily eat plankton.
Masked Butterfly Fish
Another beautiful Red Sea Fish, the Masked Butterflyfish lives around coral reef at depths of 9-65ft (3 to 20 meters) so they are easy to spot while snorkeling. The masked butterfly fish usually can be seen in pairs or groups and has many other names, including Bluecheek Butterflyfish or Golden Butterflyfish.
Masked butterfly fish have bright yellow bodies with thin, red vertical lines. They have a continuous dorsal fin and small hair-like teeth to allow them to pick the tiny organisms for eating. During the day, these species are active and rest at night between the corals. They feed on coral polyps and benthic invertebrates.
The Picasso triggerfish is also called lagoon or rectangular triggerfish. They live in the shallow parts of the reefs and in lagoons with a sandy bottom. Interesting fact is that the range of this species extends to the Hawaiian archipelago where it became one of the most popular Hawaiian fish and even the state fish!
Besides having a tan body with dark gradient bands, Picasso triggerfish also have a bright blue and black head stripe. Yellow stripes on its cheeks make it attractive to the eye.
With their wavy dorsal and anal fins, Picasso triggerfish can rapidly move through the water. These movements cause the fish to move backward or hover above the reef. In other words, it has a better chance of backing out of crevices than other unidirectional fish. This fish species is an aggressive predator that feeds on smaller animals like snails, crabs, shrimps, and fish.
Scorpionfish mainly dwell at the bottom of the sea. Due to their location among the rocks near the seafloor, they are also known as stonefish or rockfish.
Scorpionfish’s dorsal fins have venomous spines that can cause serious injuries and be potentially fatal. Thankfully, the fish is not fast or aggressive. Nevertheless, it is wise to stay away from rocks and the seabed to avoid stepping on one.
Scorpionfish’s coloration varies from mottled brown to orange, depending on the species. Camouflaging skin flaps and feathery fins enable them to hide from predators. Their predators include sharks and large snappers.
Lionfish are known for their venomous spines which cause painful but not fatal wounds. Therefore, they pose a potential risk while snorkeling so you should avoid getting too close to them.
This species is primarily found in tropical waters; however the presence of lionfish is a threat to marine ecosystems where it is non-native like in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Mediterranean and around South America. In the Red Sea, lionfish are native and have their natural predators, so they are not invasive.
These fish species are slow movers and conspicuous so are easy to spot. To survive, they depend on their unusual color and venomous fin spines for protection. Lionfish are active hunters that stalk their prey slowly. Fan-shaped pectoral fins enable them to chase down prey slowly and corner it.
The great barracuda is a massive fish, measuring 74-100 cm (24 to 39 inches) and weighing 2.5 to 9.0 kilograms at maturity. However, giant specimens can weigh up to 23 kilograms and reach a height of 1.5 meters (5ft)!
Great barracuda’s coloration varies from blue-grey above to silvery and chalky-white below. Occasionally, its upper side has a row of darker cross-bars, while the lower side has black blotches. The second dorsal fin is violet, while the anal and caudal fins have black and white tips.
The great barracuda has very sharp teeth and powerful jaws. There are many myths around them stating that they are dangerous and attack shiny items, but such incidents rarely happen.
Bluefin trevally is a member of the Carangidae family. It’s easy to sport due to its relatively large size and beautiful colors. The body coloration of this species is dusky green, and its dorsal fin and front are marked with blue. Their pectoral fins are yellow, and their flanks’ surface has a pattern of grey to black spots.
This species is a strong predator that uses different hunting methods, including reef ambushes and aggressive midwater attacks to catch its prey that can are usually smaller fish, shrimps, crabs, squids and mantis.
The Freckled Hawkfish is of the most interesting Red Sea creatures; usually this fish is not swimming but sitting on strategically placed raised spots on the reef with its head upward. Like hawks, they use their large eyes to watch their territories and attack unsuspecting prey.
Freckled hawkfish undergo color changes throughout their lifetimes, with their faces with red or black freckles remaining constant. Juveniles have burgundy bodies and yellow tails, while adults’ colors may vary from olive, brown, or pink. This species has a large head, an elongated body, truncated round tails, scaleless pectoral fins and spine tips with trailing filaments.
Jewel Fairy Basslet
Often referred to as Red Sea Goldfish, Jewel fairy basslet are those tiny golden-colored fish that divers and snorkelers see in large numbers around coral pinnacles. Males are purple or fuchsia colored, while females have red or gold coloration and orange-blue cheeks. Their fins are elongated, and they have beautiful bright blue eyes.
Although these fish are congregating in enormous schools, females significantly outnumber males. The females lay eggs in holes on the rock surface during the breeding season. Male fish guard, the nest to ensure its safety. Emergence of larvae takes 10-11 days after hatching.
In terms of size, the titan triggerfish is the largest triggerfish species. The coloration of the species is distinctive. Their eyes are covered in yellow spots and have a black region extending to their pectoral fin bases.
They have black margins on their dorsal and anal fins. In addition to their heavy scales and deep grooves in the rear eyes, triggerfish have five spines at the edges of their caudal peduncles.
Their habitat is coral reefs and lagoons, and they are aggressive, especially when protecting their nests. They are using their sharp teeth to crush corals, they can bite hard, so avoiding them is best. Titan triggerfish have an unusual swimming pattern (they use only their top and bottom fins and can swim backward too) that makes them easy to identify.
Bullethead parrotfish belong to the family Scaridae and are commonly referred to as the daisy parrotfish. When you observe a parrotfish, you can see that this species is munching on coral all day long. While eating, parrotfish actually clean the corals from organisms and bacteria that otherwise would overgrow and damage the reef.
Bullethead parrotfish are easily recognizable because of their bullet-shaped heads and beaklike teeth. Among the staples of their marine life are green algae and reef rubble.
The coloration of bullethead parrotfish is as follows:
- A juvenile’s head and body are striped with dark brown and white.
- A female’s head and anterior body are pale reddish-brown. The posterior part of the body is darker, with three or four vertical white spots and often an area of white surrounding a black spot on the caudal peduncle.
- Caudal peduncles of males are pale green, scales are pinkish, cheeks are yellowish, and snouts are purple during the terminal phase.
The napoleon wrasse is among the largest fish species in the world. You can easily recognize it by size, shape, and color. These species have a maximum length of 230 cm and weigh 190 kg.
Napoleon wrasse develops a prominent hump on their heads that resembles a “Napoleon” hat during their lifetime. Their lips are fleshy, and their color varies according to age and gender. Males are either electric blue, green, or purple, females’ upper bodies are red-orange, while their lower bodies are red-orange to white, while the juveniles are green and have two vertical black lines behind their eyes.
Emperor angelfish is a unique marine fish that changes colors as it transitions from juvenile to adult. The juvenile emperor’s dorsal, caudal, and anal fins are speckled with white, black, and blue stripes. Adults’ bodies are yellow with horizontal stripes of dark blue. They have white or grey mouths, and their foreheads and operculum are dark blue to black.
The male emperor angelfish are territorial and will do anything to protect the females and their space. They feed on various diets, like algae, corals, and invertebrates.
Giant Moray Eel
Among Indo-Pacific moray eels, the giant moray has an enormous body mass, growing up to 3 meters / 10 ft long and 30 kilograms heavy.
Giant morays in the Red Sea have a brown coloration with dark brown spots. Their large, narrow heads enable them to access coral crevices for hunting. The juveniles have more black spots and are usually tan in color.
Morays are scaleless and lack pelvic and pectoral fins. An eel makes an undulating motion while swimming. In addition, they secrete mucus that makes them slippery like eels. They live in caves, under ledges, in holes between corals but sometimes can be seen swimming over the reef or at the bottom too.
The attractive-looking orange coral grouper belongs to the Epinephelinae subfamily of the Serranidae family. The head of this species is flat, with a slight convexity between the eyes.
Preopercles of coral groupers have fleshy upper edges and rounded, finely serrated lower edges. Their dorsal fin membranes show indentations between the spines. These finfish are primarily orange-red to reddish brown, with various bright blue spots covering their heads, bodies, and dorsal, anal, and caudal fins.
A diagonal paler bar can sometimes be seen on their flanks. Juveniles are orange to yellow with faint blue spots widely spaced.
Sergeant Major Damselfish
Sergeant majors carry stripes that look like the traditional military rank insignias this is how they got their name. It has a small, rounded body with two nostrils on either side of its snout.
The coloration of this species varies according to the stage of the fish. In the early stages, its top is greenish-yellow, and the bottom is white with prominent vertical black bars. Males, however, become dark blue as they age. Sergeant majors are schooling fish; they tend to move in groups while feeding during the day.
Unlike most other fish, masked pufferfish have no scales. A puffed mouth and a merged beak characterize them.
The following physical characteristics help you identify masked pufferfish:
- Orbicular body shape
- Body coloration is tan or brown
- Dark spots on the body
- Spineless fins
- Lacks pelvic fins
- Have one dorsal fin
As a response to threats, pufferfish puff themselves up with water, appearing more significant than usual. Without this defense mechanism, they would otherwise be easy prey for predators since they move so slowly.
Another otherworldly-looking Red Sea fish is the cornetfish have a long, grey cylindrical body that makes it look like a big needle, so it is often called needlefish too. It has a long snout and a small mouth that this species uses to find small fish and crustaceans.
The reflection of the sun rays on the surface of the Red Sea waters makes this elegant species more camouflaged. Needlefish jump out of the water to defend themselves when threatened.
Cornetfish is an active predator that feeds mainly at dusk or night when visibility is poor for predators such as sharks. It uses its long snout to detect food and then sucks it into its mouth with a rapid movement of its head forward, known as suction feeding.
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