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I’ve Seen That – Opistognathus aurifrons

It never fails to delight divers when they spot the yellow jawfish (Opistognathus aurifrons) poking its head above the sandy rubble it calls home. Particularly exciting is finding a male with eggs in its mouth like the one pictured here. Jawfish are mouthbrooders, meaning that after courtship, the male fertilizes the eggs and then gathers them into his mouth, protecting the eggs until they hatch 7–9 days later. During this period, he will spit them out to rotate and aerate the eggs, keeping them healthy.

Here’s more you should know about jawfish:

  • Can be as large as 4 inches long.
  • Found at depths as shallow as 10 feet, but more commonly at 30–50 feet.
  • Tend to be rather shy. Look ahead to find one “dancing” above its hole. Approach very slowly along the bottom and stop as close as 12 inches away—then patiently stop and wait for it to get comfortable with your presence and pop its head back up.
  • Can also carry away sand, pebbles, shells, and other small matter in their mouths. You may also see them burrowing in their holes, popping up to spit out the sand they remove.
  • Eats small fish and krill.

logo-ccmiLearn more about our marine environment and creatures from Katie Correia, Science & Education Manager at Central Caribbean Marine Institute, Little Cayman Research Center. For more info on the CCMI, visit

August 2019