Common name: Goatfishes



A group of small to medium-sized marine fishes with two widely-spaced dorsal fins and a pair of long sensory barbels on the chin.

Goatfishes are found throughout tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, including the Red, Mediterranean and Black seas.

They live on the bottom and feed by probing and 'tasting' the sediment with their barbels.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Goatfishes, MULLIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 20 Jul 2024,

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Family Taxonomy

The family Mullidae comprises more than 60 species in 6 genera. Four genera and 26 described species are known from Australian waters. Kim (2002) reconstructed relationships by examining the osteology and myology of the group.  

Family Distribution

Widespread in tropical and temperate regions of the three major oceans, including in the Red, Mediterranean and Black seas. Goatfishes inhabit inshore waters where they feed on soft sandy or muudy bottoms, although a few species are coral-reef dwellers.

Family Description

Meristics: D VI-viii, 8-9; A I-II, 5-8; P 13-17; V I, 5; Vertebrae 24. Body moderately long, slender, somewhat compressed. Head compressed, mouth subterminal, teeth small. Chin with a pair of long sensory barbels that can be folded into a groove on the throat. Two widely separated dorsal fins, the first spinous, the second with one spine and 6-8 soft rays. Anal fin longer than second dorsal fin, with 1-2 spines and 5-8 soft rays. Pectoral fins of moderate size, pelvic fins originating below pectoral fins. Caudal fin forked. Scales large, ctenoid, lateral line continuous.

Family Size

To 40 cm, although most are smaller.

Family Colour

Colour variable, from creamish to reddish, often with spots, stripes, bars, blotches and saddles. Many species are brightly coloured.

Family Feeding

Goatfishes feed by probing the sediment with their long sensory barbels. They have fine teeth and lack crushing molars, and feed on small molluscs, crustaceans, echinoderms and fishes, as well as on larger soft-bodied prey such as polychaete worms.

Family Reproduction

Sexes are separate, fertilisation is external and goatfishes are pelagic spawners.

Family Commercial

Goatfishes are an excellent-eating food fish and are highly valued throughout their range. They are taken in gill nets, traps, trawls and on hook-and-line. Although not specifically targetted, goatfishes are taken in prawn and fish trawls in Australian waters.


Dianne J. Bray


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