Right or wrong, certain names immediately bring certain expectations, whether the name refers to a fish, dog, cat, animal or human! There is something in the collective consciousness that associates a “look” or behavior with a name. Some fish rightly deserve their name, while others must suffer under the expectations that they cannot live up to. Below is a list of some of the most well known common name fish.

  • Clownfish: This fish was one of the best known saltwater fish before Nemo was found. Its behavior as it snuggles into its host anemone and the back and forth swimming cannot help but appear comical. The bright yellow and white markings of the Clownfish add to the humor.
  • Triggerfish: As a group, the Triggerfish have a small dorsal ray that they use to wedge themselves into a crevasse. Until they lower this ray, or “pull the trigger,” it is impossible to get the Triggerfish out of its hiding place.
  • Clown Triggerfish: Take both names and you have a Triggerfish with the markings of a circus clown, all polka dotted with gaudy “lipstick”. 
  • Frontosa: While not as obvious, the name in Latin means “large forehead”, and the males of this African cichlid certainly live up to its name.
  • Geophagus: This genus of S.A. cichlids live up to their Latin name of “earth eater”, constantly digging in the substrate for something to eat.
  • Jack Dempsey: This South American cichlid is named for the famous fighter. While it can hold its own with most other cichlids, it is not particularly aggressive, and it rarely picks a fight.
  • Red Devil: This fish can be a true devil, harassing all the fish and constantly digging up the substrate. Like most S.A. cichlids, the Red Devil can reach 10-12” in length and the males will develop a large cranial hump. In truth, this fish should be called an “orange devil”, but it just does not have the same cache. 
  • Firemouth: This S.A. cichlid has a bright red lower “jaw” and truly looks like it is on fire.
  • Angelfish: Perhaps the best know freshwater tropical fish, the Angelfish projects a regal elegance as it glides around the aquarium with its long flowing fins.  Despite its name, this fish can be aggressive towards others, especially if it is trying to spawn.
  • Clown Loach: Perhaps it is the orange and black markings similar to the marine Clownfish that gives the Clown loach its name. But if you have ever watched a school of these loaches trying all to fit in a cave/log/etc at one time you cannot help but laugh. 
  • Eye biter: Also known by its species name, Compressiceps, this name is a misnomer. While this fish is an ambush predator, it never has been seen plucking eyes out of other fish. It just looks like it could. The most unusual characteristic of this fish is that it swallows its prey tail first, not head first as almost all other predators. I guess “tail biter” just did not sound as intimidating as eye biter!
  • Bubble Eye: This variety of Goldfish has been selectively bred to have a large, fluid filled sac below each eye. This makes navigation for this fish rather difficult, and they must obviously avoid sharp objects. 
  • Celestial Goldfish: This variety of Goldfish has been bred to have both eyes bulge out from the body and look straight up into the heavens. While interesting to look at, this fish has quite a bit of difficulty seeing where it is going and where the food is. It will have trouble competing with more normal fish for the food.  
  • Tiger Barb:  With its yellow body and black vertical stripes, the markings of this fish are very similar to those of a tiger.  While they can be nippy if not kept in large enough groups, when kept in a “pride” of 4 or more, Tiger Barbs concentrate on bothering each other.
  • Knifefish: This class of fish gets their name from their flattened body and long undulating anal fin running the length of their body. They just look like a knife blade.

There are many more examples of fish with names that describe their look or behavior. What is your favorite?

About The Author Don Roberts

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