Reef Fish Identification – Yellow Headed Jawfish

reef fish identification
Yellow Headed Jawfish by David Gottlieb

On our island, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef in Belize, we go snorkeling every day. Belize is located on the Western edge of the Caribbean Sea, and we have all of the Caribbean fish that dwell in other parts of the Caribbean. All of our guides know their fish, and when we take you snorkeling we are pointing out all of the various species and sub-species during the snorkel.

Every night on the island someone from our staff does a short talk on something interesting like the history of Slickrock, or the underwater geology of Glover’s Reef, or, the #1 favorite, Reef Fish Identification. During this talk we introduce many of the fish we see on a daily basis. One of our motivations for giving this talk is if we can get you to recognize the common stuff you always see, like Sergeant Major, French Angelfish, Queen Angelfish, Black Durgeon, Yellow Head Wrasse, Dusky Damselfish, and many others, then you will know it when you see something rare. Also, during the talk we introduce different fish behaviors so that you not only learn to notice exactly what the fish looks like, but also, just what are they doing anyway?

One of the most interesting fish in the Caribbean Sea is the Yellow Headed Jawfish. This is a long, thin fish that has a bright yellow face which fades to white on the rest of their body. They are hard to spot because they are so lightly colored that they blend into the white coral sand bottom. Also they spend their time hovering above a small tunnel that leads to their underground home, and as soon as they are disturbed, they back down into the hole, which makes them even harder to see.

When you do see one you might wonder how did they find a hole so perfectly round? The answer is they didn’t find it, they built it! The next obvious question is, how does one “build” a home when you don’t have any arms? Good question! The answer is – with your mouth!

The illustration below is from one of the all time best fish books, Reef Fish Behavior by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach (now out of print, available on Amazon used).

In this illustration you can see how the fish makes his house, by moving rocks with his mouth!

How to build a house when you don't have arms
How to build a house when you don’t have arms