Hawkfish, in the family Cirrhitidae, are among the most sought-after fish for fish hobbyists, mainly because of their unusual mannerisms and predatory behavior. As their name implies, these fish perch high atop coral branches or rock and patiently wait to pounce on passing prey. They can dart across an aquarium with extraordinary speed and stop in an instant. They can even “walk” across the bottom of the tank, using their fins – a fascinating behavior to observe.
These fish typically do not grow larger than four to six inches and are usually quite beautifully colored. They are streamlined, long and rounded instead of disk-like and thin, with thick pectoral fins. They have small mouths equipped with tiny teeth. Many also have little hair-like extensions, called cirri, sprouting from their dorsal spines. Interestingly, most seem to be immune to the stinging power of fire corals.
In their natural habitat, primarily around reefs and rocky areas in the Indo-Pacific, these fish feed on small fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates. They have a solitary and peaceful nature, are relatively shy and a touch nervous, and so need abundant hiding spaces in rocks and crevices.
In captivity, hawkfish are quite hardy and are easy to keep in smaller tanks. They require little space, are not typically territorial, and are easy to feed. They are highly sensitive to ammonia and nitrate, however, and so should only be introduced to an “older” well-established aquarium to insure their survival.
These fish will not readily eat flake food; however, if you do not have a supply of live brine shrimp you can feed them chopped-up frozen scallops, shrimp or fish.
Species for the Aquarium
The freckled hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri, is a graceful and hardy fish. It has a white or grayish body with a reddish-brown band running from its head to its tail and small dark spots on its head. In nature, it feeds on small fish and invertebrates and because of this, must not be kept with fish smaller than itself.
The fire hawkfish, also called the flame or red hawkfish, Neocirrhitus armatus, is quite common in stores and comes from the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. It is red with a black band along the base of the dorsal fins and around the eyes. It too will eat smaller fish, so be sure to let it be the smallest in the bunch.
A highly sought-after species is the long-nosed hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus. As its name implies, this fish has a long snout or “nose” with which it probes into crevices and holes in rocks and corals. In nature, this fish lives at depths of about 100 feet or more, where it is found perching on soft corals, gorgonians and rocks. It is conspicuously marked with a white body and reddish or brownish cross-hatched pattern all over its body.
Although these species are quite popular because they are easy to care for, they can be relatively expensive, so be sure to keep them only after your tank is very well established.