Trumpet fish: Characteristics, types, habitat and more…

Today we will learn about another curious fish whose name comes from one of its most distinctive trait: The trumpet fish or Aulostomus maculatus . Keep reading this article and learn all about this peculiar seawater fish.

The trumpet fish belong to the family Aulostomidae. The musician fish (as they could be jokingly nicknamed) are very similar than sea horses being in fact a longer version of them.

Tropical waters around the world are their main habitat, with two species in the Atlantic and one in the Indo-Pacific. They are mostly demersal reef inhabitants and have a length of almost 1 mt which makes them relatively large for such a location.


Kingdom Animalia. Phylum Chordata  Class Actinopterygii  Order Syngnathiformes Family Aulostomidae…

The Trumpet Fish’ Main Characteristics

Trumpet fish are members of the order Syngnathiformes,( spinned fish) along with seahorses and cornet fishes. These fish are closely related, and the generic name, Aulostomus, is a compound of two Greek words: “aulos”, which means flute and “stoma” which means mouth.  Their tubular snout is the main reason of their name.

Their body is elongated, rigid and pike-like, while their dorsal and anal fins are almost closely adjacent to the tail, where the individual dorsal spines reach halfway the main region.

In the same way than most members of the Syngnathiformes order, the trumpet fish’ body are also inflexible supported by the intertwined struts of the bone. Another distinctive feature of the family relies on its long tubular snout that ends up with somewhat indescribable jaws. There is no doubt that mother nature never stops amazing us!

Most members of this family have the ability to quickly expand their jaws into a circular hole for feeding, and are highly carnivorous creatures that stalk prey floating almost motionless a few inches above the substrate, advancing towards their unsuspecting prey.

Once close enough, they quickly jump on them by opening their jaws. During the development of this action they open their mouths in the form of a tube creating a strong suction force, which attracts the prey directly to the mouth.

It is known that the aulostomus feed almost exclusively on small reef fish and although they have no commercial fishery value, some members of the family occasionally find themselves in the aquarium trade.  They are not as popular as aquarium fish because of the demanding care they need.

Other Traits

Thanks to their tubular shape and their body’s green and yellow colors, trumpet fish camouflage with ease among algae, freeing themselves from many predators.

They tend to swim in large groups of several individuals and, when one gets sick and dies, others from the same group usually do so. They often swim in a vertical direction, since their favorite habitat is corals (int), and they do this to try to mix with them. Their tail is prehensile, which means that it is rolled to hold on to leaves and seagrass.

At the tip of elongated snout there is a single prominent bar, and its dorsal and anal fins located at the rear of its body are small and almost imperceptible, giving an almost snake appearance. The dorsal fin is preceded by twelve dorsal spines and the caudal fin is small and very rounded.

Relax and enjoy

Where Do Trumpet Fish Inhabit?

Trumpet fish live on coral reefs and seagrass beds, in shallow waters, where parrotfish also inhabit.  They prefer such ecosystems since they allow them to be more easily camouflaged among the algae, so that it is much easier to catch their prey. Aren’t they smart?

Trumpetfish species are common in the Caribbean shallower waters, the Florida Coast, the West Indies, the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, the west of Central America, south of Brazil and on the coast of Africa.

trumpet fish : stunning coral reefs

The Trumpetfish’ Feeding Behavior

Trumpet fish are carnivorous fish that feed on small fish and invertebrates. They have developed many specialized feeding techniques. One is to camouflage itself by using its chromatophores vertically between marine whips or sea fans and to remain stationary or to deviate slowly with the current around the bases of these gorgonians.

When a prey appears, the trumpetfish opens its mouth wider than the diameter of its own body, helped by the elastic tissues of its mouth, creating a vacuum that sucks the prey in its mouth.

Another specialized hunting technique consists of the trumpet swimming slowly behind a large herbivorous fish, using the larger fish as a camouflage, then winding its body in “s” form an and hurling itself at the prey when an opportune moment to strike occurs.

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How Do Trumpet Fish Reproduce?

Trumpet fish mates for life and the couple begins mating with a ritual cortege. First, they face each other and caress with their snouts while the Romeo gets excited and shakes its body  around the female. When he reaches the female’s abdomen, he rubes it with his snout.

This behavior indicates his couple that she must deposit the ovules into the two folds of his abdomen. The female quickly aligns in front of the male and then introduces her spawning organ or tube, to deposit her ovules.

Then, the male sticks the eggs with his sticky mucus and in this way keep them safe until the young hatch from the eggs. When the offspring are born they are able to swim immediately to the grass or the nearest algae and surround it with their tail.

This is a species of which really worth learning about

How Do Trumpet Fish Camouflage?

As indicated above, trumpetfish can use special pigments that contain chromatophores to change coloration and adapt to their environment. The reason for these is that they are extremely weak swimmers and depends largely on camouflage standing (vertically between the sea whips and gorgonians), both as a defense mechanism against predators and also to catch prey.

Threats and Management

Trumpet fish are caught in large quantities for the traditional Chinese medicine industry, where they are considered as valuable as seahorses. It is believed in Eastern Countries that they are an excellent medicine for colds and flu illnesses.

Generally, shrimp vessels capture the trumpet fish as by-catch with huge trawls. However, instead of returning them to the sea as it is done with other marine animals captured in the same way, they are conserved for sale to the traditional Chinese medicine industry. Divers in search of decorative shell snails also capture them.

In 1998, India, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia and Malaysia exported 12 metric tons (27,100 pounds) of dried trumpet fish to Hong Kong. In 1993 and 1994, Taiwan imported approximately 27 metric tons (59,500 pounds) of trumpet fish (a weight equivalent to the weight of 11 all-terrain sports vehicles).

It is also common to find trumpet fish in the animal trade. However, it is not advisable to buy them because, like seahorses, they are difficult to maintain because they need live food every day. Researchers have reported a decrease in the number of trumpet fish in the seas of China and Australia. For collectors, it is increasingly difficult to find them and fishermen find less and less in secondary fishing.

Unlike the seahorse, which has been widely studied, not much is known about the trumpet fish. It is possible that scientists never get to know them well due to overfishing.


Other Trumpet Fish Species

Let’s meet the whole family

Aulostomus Chinensis (Chinese Trumpetfish)

The Chinese trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis) is a ray-finned fish (Actinopterygii), belonging to the Aulostomidae family.This specimen is widely distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean, from the African east coast to Hawaii, the Revillagigedo Island and the Galapagos Islands.

Morphology and Description

Like the whole genus, The Chinese trumpetfish has a long body, with a small, long and upward mouth and a tubular snout. The gills are pectinated (similar to the teeth of a comb). In front of the dorsal fin, the Chinese trumpetfish has 8 to 12 spines isolated and well-spaced as well as 24-27 soft dorsal radii, and 26-29 soft anal radii.

These specimens have the ability to vary their color from brown or even green, to mottled brown or bright yellow.  In addition, their body has a pattern of pale vertical and / or horizontal lines.

A black stripe, (sometimes reduced to a dark spot) is found along the jaw. The dorsal and anal fins are clear and similar with a dark basal bar, and located opposite, on the back. Aulostomus chinensis has a pair of black spots in the caudal fin and another one in each base of the pelvic fins.

Its size is around 60 cm in length, sometimes reaching 80 cm.


This is a bento-pelagic species, which generally inhabits reefs, in shallow clear waters. It occurs in rocky and coral areas, both in protected areas, and towards the open sea.

Its depth range is between 3 and 122 meters, although some specimens have been reported up to 243 meters deep.


The Chinese trumpet fish is diurnal and lonely creature as well as a very intelligent hunter who applies two different techniques to catch his prey. The first is the ambush, which consists of waiting for a potential prey near hard coral, black coral bush or gorgonia and attack.

The second is the discreet follow-up, in which they stay close to some large fish (groupers, carangidae or even hawksbill turtles among others) until they have the opportunity to approach unsuspecting prey. Their diet is basically made-up by fish small fish and crustaceans.


Indo-Pacific: East Africa to Hawaii and the Easter Island, north to southern Japan south to Lord Howe Island. Eastern Central Pacific: Panama, Revillagigedo Islands, Clipperton Island, Cocos Island, and Malpelo Island

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Aulostomus strigosus (Atlantic trumpetfish)

This specimen is found in shallow coastal waters in the eastern Atlantic Ocean from Mauritania to Namibia. 

The Aulostomus strigosus inhabits in the warmest waters of the eastern Atlantic from Namibia to Mauritania, although many specimens have also been found on the Macaronesian Islands, including Madeira, Cape Verde and the Canary Islands and even in Brazil.


The Atlantic trumpetfish trumpet fish is a long-bodied specimen with a a long tubular snout. Like the other species of this genus it has the ability to change color according to its mood or to camouflage itself. The most frequent registered colors are brown or even blue, green or orange tones, or intermediate tones.

Its anatomy is also characterized by a pattern of pale horizontal and / or vertical lines and a dark mottling. The dorsal and anal fins are semitransparent with a black dot in front of them and usually have a pattern of four white spots on the body


This is a demersal, coastal species that is usually found on rocky or coral substrates in coastal waters. Their main prey is fish although they are also thought to feed on the animals found in the substrate. Aulostomus strigosus is also a follower fish that swims in schools with other species of fish (especially large ones to exploit foraging opportunities)

When they hunt small prey the Atlantic trumpetfish hangs vertically in the water column, with the head pointing downwards, hitting the prey when the opportunity arises.

Let’s watch them

Trumpet Fish and Human Beings

Trumpet fish aren’t  dangerous to humans, nor are they a particular source of food for people, although in some places they can be marketed locally as food. Moreover, they are becoming very popular aquarium fish although they aren’t recommended for beginner aquarium fans. It’s important to keep in mind that they can measure more or less a meter so they aren’t suitable for home aquariums.

Recent Research

An interesting study about trumpet fish, (Phylogeography of the Trumpetfishes) tried to obtain a better understanding of the evolution of the three species of trumpet fish. The research was carried out by studying the mitochondrial DNA in each species and using the commonly accepted convention of sequence divergence of 2% per million years.

The group estimated that the Western Atlantic species separated from the Indo-Pacific species around 4 million years ago, when the Isthmus of Panama was probably flooded, and the Atlantic species was isolated from the Indo-Pacific variety around 2 million years ago showing that the Indo-Pacific species were the original ancestral species, and the Atlantic species are examples of the ringed ones.

Trumpet Fish Care

The most experienced trumpet fish breeders fish maintain a water temperature for these specimens between 70 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit and a specific hardness of 1.020 to 1.025. Frequent water changes and a high quality filtration system are a must if you want to keep this species healthy and happy.

The trumpet fish will accept almost any live fish offered as food, although their diet can be a bit expensive. However, if you can afford such expenses their behavior and beauty will surprise you.

The trumpet fish should be fed every day, and the servings will depend on the size and temperament of the specimen. Their temperament is mostly peaceful, but can be aggressive towards  other trumpet fish as well as with shrimps, crabs , and  other relatively fish  small.

Keep in mind that trumpet fish can be very shy when they are first introduced into a new aquarium.  So, it would be better to wait after this species has acclimatized before introducing aggressive fish.

Let’s listen to them


Let’s Learn About Other Simililar Species


Seahorses vary in size from 1.5 to 35.5 cm. Their name comes from their equine appearance with bent necks and long heads followed by their distinctive trunk and tail. Seahorses are bony fish but they don’t  have scales, but a thin skin stretched over a series of bony plates, which are arranged in rings throughout their body.

They swim vertically propelled by themselves using their dorsal fin. The pectoral fins on either side of the head are used to maneuver and lack the caudal fin typical of fish.

Sea horses are adept at camouflage with the ability to hide their spiny appendages depending on their habitat, which is unusual among fish. In addition, it is good to point out that sea horses have a flexible and well-defined neck, like a crown or horn on its head, which is different for each species.

Seahorses swim very badly, fluttering quickly using the pectoral fins behind their eyes to steer. They are considered to have the slowest movement in the world with a maximum speed of 1.5 m per hour which makes them rest with their apprehensible tails wrapped around a stationary object. We invite you to read our article sea horses to learn more about this species

Cornetfishes or flutemouths

The cornetfishes are a small family of the order Syngnathiformes, with a single genus, Fistularia. Their habitat range covers tropical and subtropical zones. Their name comes from the Latin «fistula» which means pipe, which describes the elongated shape of their body.

Morphological Characteristics

Their body is similar to that of eels: it is elongated and can reach 2 m in length. The dorsal and anal fins are well defined and opposed to each other; the dorsal fin has between 15 to 17 rays, while the anal has between 14 to 16 rays.


The caudal fin is bifurcated with two very long and filamented medium rays. These specimens also have a well-defined caudal line of blue coloration formed by rows of blue dots. 

Cornetfishes are also characterized by the presence of a tubular and long snout andtheir body color goes from gray to olive green. Their mimetic capacity allows them to change their tonalities with ease for camouflaging purposes. The youngest specimens are gregarious and stay in schools while the adult ones are lonely and usually stay in deeper places.


Cornet fish live in coastal waters or coral reefs making-up small groups that wander at depths between 1 to 50 meters. They have populated almost all tropical habitats and marine subtropics.

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