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The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Hawkfishes, Family Cirrhitidae
Part III

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Genus Neocirrhites:

Neocirrhites armatus (Castelnau 1873), the Scarlet or Flame Hawkfish. Pacific Plate in distribution. To three and a half inches in length. A tough beauty. This one in captivity.

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Genus Oxycirrhites:

The Long-Nose Hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus (Bleeker 1857), The Hawkfish most hobbyists have seen and want. Found in the Indo-Pacific, including Hawai'i, This superlatively suitable aquarium species reaches approximately five inches in total length. Red Sea image.

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Genus Paracirrhites:

The Arc-Eye Hawkfish, Paracirrhites arcatus (Cuvier 1829). With an interesting U-shaped three color patch behind the eye. They grow to about 5 inches in length and come in two basic color varieties; one flesh-toned, the other a darker brown based. Both of these in Hawai'i.

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Forster's or Freckled Hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri (Schneider 1801). With a body marked by dark spots on the front half and horizontal bands on the rear. This species can be testy and eat goldfish near their full length of almost nine inches, so be careful when purchasing a larger one. Indo-Pacific. Shown Fiji at right; below: juvenile and adult dark form in Hawai'i, light one in the Red Sea.

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Paracirrhites hemistictus (Gunther 1874), the Whitespotted Hawkfish. Indo-Pacific on many islands but continental shores. To almost a foot in length. The first one in Moorea, French Polynesia, the second in the Cooks.

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Paracirrhites nisus Randall 1963. West Central Pacific; Cook Islands and Polynesia. Looks like a cross between Forster's and the Arc-Eye Hawk...


A good Hawkfish is easy to find; all species and most individual specimens are suitable for captivity. They ship well and are relatively parasite free from the wild. Standard Operating Procedure for all marine purchases is all that should be followed: 1) ascertain that the prospective purchase has been in the store for at least a few days 2) ask regarding it's existing habitat conditions 3) somewhat superfluously in the case of this family, ask to see the fish eat what you intend to feed it 4) if in doubt, put a deposit on the specimen or leave it for further consideration.

Torn fins and suspicious blemishes are to be avoided. Curiosity and activity are requisite behavior for any new purchase. Here is pictured a doomed/blemished Paracirrhites forsteri.

Shredded fins may be from bad handling or poor water quality; blemishes could be from parasitic or bacterial infection. In either case these specimens should be passed by. Also, a Hawkfish is always hungry. If you ask to see one eat and it doesn't; wait to buy it!


No special consideration is required; just regular maintenance (Savitt 1976). Hawkfishes do well in natural or synthetic water of regular to lower specific gravity (1.025-1.019). They are not sensitive in terms of temperature. Low to upper seventy degrees Fahrenheit are suggested for the entire group.

Despite their, at times, secretive nature, possession of large eyes and nocturnal habits, Hawkfishes adapt to well-lit aquarium conditions (Takeshita 1975).

Behavior: Territoriality:

Hawkfishes are fine with other species as long as their tankmates are large enough to not be eaten or eat the hawks. Sometimes they can become territorial after being in the same system a long time (Savitt 1976). Occasional shifting, addition or removal of part of the habitat alleviates this problem. They may chase other fishes, but rarely do any damage. In general it is not a good idea to mix Hawkfishes for this reason.

Regarding reef systems: Be forewarned that a Hawkfish's large jaws and sharp teeth are ideal devices for capturing crustacea. Some small species are ideal reef additions, but they will eat crustaceans and "worms". Watch out shrimps!

These fishes display human-responsive behavior very quickly. They imprint easily and will "beg" at the surface and feed out of your hand.


The long-nose hawk is known to lay demersal (bottom) eggs (Randall 1981). Takeshita (1975) describes a courtship dance among a pair in captivity in the early evenings. He also gives notes regarding sexual differences. Briefly; males being smaller, more colorful, with black margins on the pelvic and caudal fins.


Hawkfishes spend most of their time perched on a rock or piece of coral, waiting to make a short fast rush at a food item. Their short, conical teeth are modified for grasping small zooplankton and fish. They accept all frozen and flake foods readily; with only brief training from the wild.


Hawkfishes are typically "clean" of pathogenic disease and have low parasite loads. They are not particularly sensitive to therapeutic agents or treatment regimens. Quarantine and a prophylactic dip are suggested as always.

Other fishes in the system will typically show symptoms of disease before your hawks, and succumb from the same ahead of them.


The family Cirrhitidae has everything going for it in terms of suitability for captive conditions; they are readily available, moderately inexpensive, hardy, interesting behaviorally, and accept all foods and a wide range of water conditions. Try them out.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Carlson, Bruce A. 1975. A scarlet hawkfish for the Fiji Islands. TFH 4/75.

Fatherree, James. Hawkfishes, Are they a good choice for your aquarium? TFH 1/05.

Fenner, Bob & Cindi Camp. 1990. The Hawkfishes, family Cirrhitidae. FAMA 4/90.

Michael, Scott W. 1998. Hawkfishes. Small, aggressive predators of the coral reef. AFM 8/98.

Michael, Scott W. 1999. Spawning flames. You could be the first if you pay attention to natural history. AFM 6/99.

Randall, J.E. 1963. Review of the hawkfishes (family Cirrhitidae). Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus. 114:389-451

Randall, J.E. 1981. Longnose hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus. Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine 8/81

Savitt, D. 1976. Hawkfish. Marine Aquarist 7:4 1976

Stratton, Richard F. 1989. The spotted hawkfish. TFH 10/89.

Stratton, Richard F. 1991. The flame hawkfish. TFH 2/91.

Takeshita, G.Y. 1975. Long-snouted hawkfish. Marine Aquarist 6(6):75

Tinker, S.W. 1978. Fishes of Hawaii. Hawaiian Service, Inc. HI

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