Tilefishes, also known as blanquillo, are mostly small perciform marine fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 comprising the family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

They are usually found in sandy areas, especially near coral reef
Coral reef
Coral reefs are underwater structures made from calcium carbonate secreted by corals. Coral reefs are colonies of tiny living animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, which in turn consist of polyps that cluster in groups. The polyps...


Commercial fisheries
Generally, a fishery is an entity engaged in raising or harvesting fish which is determined by some authority to be a fishery. According to the FAO, a fishery is typically defined in terms of the "people involved, species or type of fish, area of water or seabed, method of fishing, class of boats,...

 exist for the largest species, making them important food fish. However, the American Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments...

 warns pregnant or breastfeeding women against eating tilefish and some other fish
Mercury in fish
Fish and shellfish concentrate mercury in their bodies, often in the form of methylmercury, a highly toxic organic compound of mercury. Fish products have been shown to contain varying amounts of heavy metals, particularly mercury and fat-soluble pollutants from water pollution...

 due to mercury contamination.

The smaller, exceptionally colorful species of tilefish are enjoyed in the aquarium
An aquarium is a vivarium consisting of at least one transparent side in which water-dwelling plants or animals are kept. Fishkeepers use aquaria to keep fish, invertebrates, amphibians, marine mammals, turtles, and aquatic plants...


Due to their low fecundities, commercially important species are threatened by overfishing via long-line
Long-line fishing
Longline fishing is a commercial fishing technique. It uses a long line, called the main line, with baited hooks attached at intervals by means of branch lines called "snoods". A snood is a short length of line, attached to the main line using a clip or swivel, with the hook at the other end....

 and bottom trawling
Trawling is a method of fishing that involves pulling a fishing net through the water behind one or more boats. The net that is used for trawling is called a trawl....


Physical description

The two subfamilies appear to be morphologically different, with members of Branchiosteginae having deep bodies, large heads and large, somewhat subterminal mouths. In contrast, members of Malacanthinae are slender with elongate bodies, smaller heads and terminal mouths.

Tilefish range in size from 11 centimetres (yellow tilefish, Hoplolatilus luteus) to 125 centimetres (great northern tilefish, Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a weight of 30 kilograms.

Both subfamilies have long dorsal
Dorsal fin
A dorsal fin is a fin located on the backs of various unrelated marine and freshwater vertebrates, including most fishes, marine mammals , and the ichthyosaurs...

 and anal fins, the latter having 1-2 spines. The gill covers (operculum
Operculum (fish)
The operculum of a bony fish is the hard bony flap covering and protecting the gills. In most fish, the rear edge of the operculum roughly marks the division between the head and the body....

) have one spine which may be sharp or blunt; some species also have a cutaneous ridge atop the head. The tail fin may range in shape from truncate to forked. Most species are fairly low-key in colour, commonly shades of yellow, brown and gray. Notable exceptions include three small, vibrant Hoplolatilus species: the purple sand tilefish (H. purpureus), Starck's tilefish (H. starcki) and the redback sand tilefish (H. marcosi).

Tilefish larva
A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle...

e are notable for their generous complement of spines and serrations on the head and scales. This feature also explains the family name Malacanthidae, from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 words mala meaning "many" and akantha meaning "thorn".

Habitat and diet

Generally shallow-water fish, tilefish are usually found at depths of 50–200 metres in both temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

, Pacific
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 and Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...

s. All species seek shelter in self-made burrows, caves at the bases of reef
In nautical terminology, a reef is a rock, sandbar, or other feature lying beneath the surface of the water ....

s or piles of rock, often in canyons or at the edges of steep slopes. Either gravelly or sandy substrate may be preferred, depending on the species.

Most species are strictly marine; an exception is found in the blue blanquillo (Malacanthus latovittatus) which is known to enter the brackish waters of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea , officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands...

's Goldie River.

Tilefish feed primarily on small benthic
Benthos is the community of organisms which live on, in, or near the seabed, also known as the benthic zone. This community lives in or near marine sedimentary environments, from tidal pools along the foreshore, out to the continental shelf, and then down to the abyssal depths.Many organisms...

An invertebrate is an animal without a backbone. The group includes 97% of all animal species – all animals except those in the chordate subphylum Vertebrata .Invertebrates form a paraphyletic group...

s, especially crustacean
Crustaceans form a very large group of arthropods, usually treated as a subphylum, which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill and barnacles. The 50,000 described species range in size from Stygotantulus stocki at , to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span...

s such as crab
True crabs are decapod crustaceans of the infraorder Brachyura, which typically have a very short projecting "tail" , or where the reduced abdomen is entirely hidden under the thorax...

 and shrimp
Shrimp are swimming, decapod crustaceans classified in the infraorder Caridea, found widely around the world in both fresh and salt water. Adult shrimp are filter feeding benthic animals living close to the bottom. They can live in schools and can swim rapidly backwards. Shrimp are an important...

. Mollusks, worm
The term worm refers to an obsolete taxon used by Carolus Linnaeus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck for all non-arthropod invertebrate animals, and stems from the Old English word wyrm. Currently it is used to describe many different distantly-related animals that typically have a long cylindrical...

s, sea urchin
Sea urchin
Sea urchins or urchins are small, spiny, globular animals which, with their close kin, such as sand dollars, constitute the class Echinoidea of the echinoderm phylum. They inhabit all oceans. Their shell, or "test", is round and spiny, typically from across. Common colors include black and dull...

s and small fish are also taken.

Behaviour and reproduction

Active fish, tilefish keep to themselves and generally stay at or near the bottom. They rely heavily on their keen eyesight to catch their prey. If approached, the fish will quickly dive into their constructed retreats, often head-first. The chameleon sand tilefish (Hoplolatilus chlupatyi) relies on its remarkable ability to rapidly change colour (with a wide range) to evade predators.

Many species form monogamous
Monogamy /Gr. μονός+γάμος - one+marriage/ a form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse at any one time. In current usage monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner irrespective of marriage or reproduction...

 pairs, while some are solitary in nature (e.g., ocean whitefish, Caulolatilus princeps), and others colonial. Some species, such as the rare pastel tilefish (Hoplolatilus fronticinctus) of the Indo-Pacific
The Indo-Pacific is a biogeographic region of the Earth's seas, comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia...

, actively builds large rubble mounds above which they school and in which they live. These mounds serve as both refuge and as a micro-ecosystem
An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving , physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight....

 for other reef species.

The reproductive habits of tilefish are not well studied. Spawning occurs throughout the spring and summer; all species are presumed not to guard their broods. Eggs are small (<2 mm) and made buoyant by oil. The larva
A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle...

e are pelagic
Pelagic zone
Any water in a sea or lake that is not close to the bottom or near to the shore can be said to be in the pelagic zone. The word pelagic comes from the Greek πέλαγος or pélagos, which means "open sea". The pelagic zone can be thought of in terms of an imaginary cylinder or water column that goes...

 and drift until the fish have reached the juvenile stage.


There are forty-two species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 in five genera
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...


The family is further divided into two subfamilies: Branchiosteginae or Latilinae and Malacanthinae. Some authors regard these subfamilies as two evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

arily distinct families (in which case the former subfamily is recorded as Branchiostegidae).
  • Subfamily Malacanthinae
    • Genus Branchiostegus
      • Branchiostegus albus Dooley, 1978.
      • Branchiostegus argentatus (Cuvier
        Georges Cuvier
        Georges Chrétien Léopold Dagobert Cuvier or Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier , known as Georges Cuvier, was a French naturalist and zoologist...

        , 1830)
      • Branchiostegus auratus (Kishinouye, 1907).
      • Australia spotted handfish, Branchiostegus australiensis Dooley & Kailola, 1988.
      • Ribbed tilefish, Branchiostegus doliatus (Cuvier
        Georges Cuvier
        Georges Chrétien Léopold Dagobert Cuvier or Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier , known as Georges Cuvier, was a French naturalist and zoologist...

        , 1830)
      • Branchiostegus gloerfelti Dooley & Kailola, 1988.
      • Branchiostegus hedlandensis Dooley & Kailola, 1988.
      • Branchiostegus ilocanus Herre, 1928.
      • Red tilefish, Branchiostegus japonicus (Houttuyn
        Martinus Houttuyn
        Maarten Houttuyn or Houttuijn , Latinised as Martinus Houttuyn, was a Dutch naturalist.Houttuyn was born in Hoorn, studied medicine in Leiden and moved to Amsterdam in 1753. He published many books on natural history. His areas of interest encompassed Pteridophytes, Bryophytes and Spermatophytes...

        , 1782)
      • Branchiostegus paxtoni Dooley & Kailola, 1988.
      • Freckled tilefish, Branchiostegus sawakinensis Amirthalingam, 1969.
      • Zebra tilefish, Branchiostegus semifasciatus (Norman, 1931).
      • Branchiostegus serratus Dooley & Paxton, 1975.
      • Branchiostegus vittatus Herre, 1926.
      • Branchiostegus wardi Whitley, 1932.
    • Genus Hoplolatilus
      • Chameleon sand tilefish, Hoplolatilus chlupatyi Klausewitz, McCosker, Randall & Zetzsche, 1978.
      • Dusky tilefish, Hoplolatilus cuniculus Randall & Dooley, 1974.
      • Yellow-spotted tilefish, Hoplolatilus fourmanoiri Smith, 1964.
      • Pastel tilefish, Hoplolatilus fronticinctus (Günther, 1887).
      • Hoplolatilus geo Fricke & Kacher, 1982.
      • Yellow tilefish, Hoplolatilus luteus Allen & Kuiter, 1989.
      • Redback sand tilefish, Hoplolatilus marcosi
        Hoplolatilus marcosi
        Hoplolatilus marcosi, commonly called the red-lined tilefish, is a Tilefish from the Western Central Pacific. It occasionally makes its way into the aquarium trade. It grows to a size of 12cm in length....

        Burgess, 1978.
      • Hoplolatilus oreni (Clark & Ben-Tuvia, 1973).
      • Hoplolatilus pohle Earle & Pyle, 1997.
      • Purple sand tilefish, Hoplolatilus purpureus
        Hoplolatilus purpureus
        Hoplolatilus purpureus is a Tilefish from the Western Central Pacific. It occasionally makes its way into the aquarium trade. It grows to a size of 13cm in length....

        Burgess, 1978.
      • Starck's tilefish, Hoplolatilus starcki
        Hoplolatilus starcki
        Hoplolatilus starcki is a Tilefish from the Western Pacific. It occasionally makes its way into the aquarium trade. It grows to a size of 15cm in length....

        Randall & Dooley, 1974.
    • Genus Malacanthus
      • Quakerfish, Malacanthus brevirostris Guichenot, 1848.
      • Blue blanquillo, Malacanthus latovittatus (Lacépède, 1801).
      • Sand tilefish, Malacanthus plumieri (Bloch
        Marcus Elieser Bloch
        Marcus Elieser Bloch was a German medical doctor and naturalist. He is generally considered one of the most important ichthyologists of the 18th century.- Life :...

        , 1786)
  • Subfamily Latilinae
    • Genus Caulolatilus
      • Bighead tilefish, Caulolatilus affinis Gill
        Theodore Gill
        Theodore Nicholas Gill was an American ichthyologist, mammalogist, malacologist and librarian.Born and educated in New York City under private tutors, Gill early showed interest in natural history. He was associated with J...

        , 1865
      • Bermuda tilefish, Caulolatilus bermudensis Dooley, 1981.
      • Atlantic goldeye tilefish, Caulolatilus chrysops (Valenciennes
        Achille Valenciennes
        Achille Valenciennes was a French zoologist.Valenciennes was born in Paris, and studied under Georges Cuvier. Valenciennes' study of parasitic worms in humans made an important contribution to the study of parasitology...

        , 1833)
      • Blackline tilefish, Caulolatilus cyanops Poey
        Felipe Poey
        -Biography:Poey was born in Havana, the son of French and Spanish parents. He spent several years of his life in Pau then studied law in Madrid. He became a lawyer in Spain but was forced to leave due to his liberal ideas, returning to Cuba in 1823. He began to concentrate on the study of the...

        , 1866
      • Bankslope tilefish, Caulolatilus dooleyi Berry, 1978.
      • Reticulated tilefish, Caulolatilus guppyi Beebe & Tee-Van, 1937.
      • Hubbs' tilefish, Caulolatilus hubbsi Dooley, 1978.
      • Gulf bareye tilefish, Caulolatilus intermedius Howell Rivero, 1936.
      • Grey tilefish, Caulolatilus microps Goode & Bean, 1878.
      • Ocean whitefish, Caulolatilus princeps (Jenyns, 1840).
      • Yellowbar tilefish, Caulolatilus williamsi Dooley & Berry, 1977.
    • Genus Lopholatilus
      • Great northern tilefish, Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps Goode & Bean, 1879 (known as Golden Tile culinarily)
      • Lopholatilus villarii Miranda-Ribeiro, 1915.

Further reading

  • Eol.org
  • Acero, A. and Franke, R., (2001)., Peces del parque nacional natural Gorgona. En: Barrios, L. M. y M. Lopéz-Victoria (Eds.). Gorgona marina: Contribución al conocimiento de una isla única., INVEMAR, Serie Publicaciones Especiales No. 7:123-131.
  • Breder, C.M. Jr., (1936)., Scientific results of the second oceanographic expedition of the "Pawnee" 1926. Heterosomata to Pediculati from Panama to Lower California., Bull. Bingham Oceanogr. Collect. Yale Univ., 2(3):1-56.
  • Béarez, P., 1996., Lista de los Peces Marinos del Ecuador Continental., Revista de Biologia Tropical, 44:731-741.
  • Castro-Aguirre, J.L. and Balart, E.F., (2002)., La ictiofauna de las islas Revillagigedos y sus relaciones zoogeograficas, con comentarios acerca de su origen y evolucion. En: Lozano-Vilano, M. L. (Ed.). Libro Jubilar en Honor al Dr. Salvador Contreras Balderas., Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León:153-170.
  • Dooley, J.K., (1978)., Systematics and biology of the tilefishes (Perciformes: Branchiostegidae and Malacanthidae), with descriptions of two new species., U.S. Nat. Ocean. Atmos. \.
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