More Info

Family Taxonomy

A large family with almost 350 described species in 26 genera worldwide (Eschmeyer & Fong 2012). About 130 species in 20 genera are known from Australian waters, including one species from Christmas Island.
Relationships within the family are being currently under study. The subfamilies Apogoninae and Pseudaminae are paraphyletic, and there are many inconsistencies between the various molecular datasets regarding the placement of species within genera. 

Family Distribution

The family is widely distributed in all tropical and temperate seas. Genera are mainly inshore marine or occasionally estuarine inhabitants, although one, Glossamia, is restricted to fresh waters of northern Australia and New Guinea.

The majority of species inhabit northern coral reefs and a few are obtained mainly by trawling over sand and mud bottoms. Most members of the family are nocturnally active, sheltering during daylight hours in caverns, rocky fissures, amongst branching corals, under jetties, etc.

Family Description

Dorsal fin VI-VIII + 8-14; Anal fin II, 8-18; Branchiostegal rays 7; Vertebrae 24-25 (10 + 14-15).

Dorsal fins separate; scales mostly ctenoid, cycloid in some, absent in Gymnapogon.

Family Size

The maximum standard length is 4-17 cm, although most species are less than 10 cm.

Family Colour

Although highly variable in colour, cardinalfishes are usually reddish, brown or blackish, often with darker bars and stripes

Family Feeding

Apogonids are carnivores, and most species are nocturnal, feeding on a variety of zooplankton and small benthic invertebrates.

Family Reproduction

The sexes are separate and fertilization is external. Cardinalfishes are paternal mouthbrooders - one of only a few marine fish families where males incubate the fertilised eggs in their mouths until the larvae hatch. Males may fertilise the eggs of multiple females.

Family Commercial

Some species are very popular in the aquarium industry.

Family Conservation

Family Remarks

Family Biology


Dianne J. Bray & Martin F. Gomon

Family Resources


Allen, G.R. (1993). Cardinalfishes (Apogonidae) of Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, with descriptions of three new species. Rev. Fr. Aquariol. 20(1): 9–20

Allen, G.R. (1999). Apogonidae.  pp. 2602–2610 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes.  Rome : FAO Vol. 4 pp. 2069–2790.

Allen, G.R. 1997. The marine fishes of tropical Australia and south-east Asia. Western Australian Museum, Perth, Western Australia. 292 p.

Allen, G.R. 1995. Apogon virgulatus Allen & Randall, a junior synonym of Apogon cavitiensis (Jordan & Seale). Rev. Fr. Aquariol. 22(1-2): 10.

Allen, G.R. 1995. A new species of cardinalfish (Apogon: Apogonidae) from northwestern Australia. Rec. West. Aust. Mus. 17: 177-180.

Allen, G.R., Cross, N.J. & Hoese, D.F. 2006. Family Apogonidae. pp. 1081-1112 in Beesley, P.L. & Wells, A. (eds). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35 Australia : ABRS & CSIRO Publishing Parts 1-3 2178 pp.

Allen, G.R. & Gomon, M.F. 2008. Family Apogonidae. pp. 557-561 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Allen, G.R. & J.E. Randall. 1993. Three new species of cardinalfishes (Apogonidae) from Australia and adjacent seas. Rev. Fr. Aquariol. 19(4): 107-114.

Allen, G.R. & R. Swainston. 1988. The marine fishes of north-western Australia: a field guide for anglers and divers. Western Australian Museum, Perth. 201 p.

Allen, G.R. & R.C. Steene. 1988. Fishes of Christmas Island Indian Ocean. Christmas Island Natural History Association, Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, 6798, Australia. 197 p.

Allen, G.R. & W.F. Smith-Vaniz. 1994. Fishes of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Atoll Res. Bull. 412: 21 p.

Allen, G.R., D.F. Hoese, J.R. Paxton, J.E. Randall, B.C. Russell, W.A. Stark II, F.H. Talbot & G.P. Whitley. 1976. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Lord Howe Island. Rec. Aust. Mus. 30(15): 365-454.

Allen, G.R., S.H. Midgley & M. Allen. 2002. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum, Perth, Western Australia. 394 p.

Baldwin, C.C. & G.D. Johnson. 1999. Paxton concilians: a new genus and species of pseudamine apogonid (Teleostei: Percoidei) from northwestern Australia: the sister group of the enigmatic Gymnapogon. Copeia 1999(4): 1050-1071.

Brothers, E.B., D. McB. Williams & P.F. Sale. 1983. Length of larval life in twelve families of fishes at 'One Tree Lagoon', Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Mar. Biol. 76: 319-324.

Chrystal, P.J., I.C. Potter, N.R. Loneragan & C.P. Holt. 1985. Age structure, growth rates, movement patterns and feeding in an estuarine population of the cardinal fish Apogon rueppellii. Mar. Biol. 85: 185-197.

Eschmeyer, W.N. & Fong, J.D. Species of Fishes by family/subfamily. On-line version dated 15 March 2012. Online Version, Updated 15 March 2012. 2012.

Francis, M.P. 1993. Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk, and Kermadec Islands, Southwest Pacific Ocean. Pac. Sci. 47(2): 136-170.

Francis, M.P. & J.E. Randall. 1993. Further additions to the fish faunas of Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands, Southwest Pacific Ocean. Pac. Sci. 47(2):118-135.

Fraser, T.H. (1972). Comparative osteology of the shallow water cardinal fishes (Perciformes : Apogonidae) with reference to the systematics and evolution of the family. Ichthyol. Bull. J.L.B. Smith Inst. 34: 1–105 44 pls

Fraser, T.H. 1998. A new species of cardinalfish (Apogonidae) from the Philippines, with comments on species of Apogon with six first dorsal spines. Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 111(4): 986-991.

Fraser, T.H. 2005. A review of the species in the Apogon fasciatus group with a description of a new species of cardinalfish from the Indo-West Pacific (Perciformes: Apogonidae). Zootaxa 924: 1-30.

Fraser, T.H. 2008. Cardinalfishes of the genus Nectamia (Apogonidae, Perciformes) from the Indo-Pacific region with descriptions of four new species. Zootaxa 1691: 1-52.

Fraser, T.H. 2010. A new deepwater species of the genus Apogonichthyoides (Apogonidae) from the Timor Sea, north-western Australia. aqua, Intl. J. Ichthyol. 16(3): 95-100.

Fraser, T.H. & G.R. Allen. 2006. A new species of Neamia (Perciformes: Apogonidae) from the West Pacific Ocean. Memoirs of Museum Victoria 63(1): 1-5.

Fraser, T.H. & G.R. Allen. 2010. Cardinalfish of the genus Apogonichthyoides Smith, 1949 (Apogonidae) with a description of a new species from the West-Pacific region. Zootaxa 2348 :40-56.

Fraser, T.H. & G.R. Allen. 2011. A new cardinalfish of the genus Apogonichthyoides (Perciformes, Apogonidae) from Raja Ampat Islands, with a key to species. Zootaxa 3095: 63–68.

Fraser, T.H. & P.J. Struhsaker. 1991. A new genus and species of cardinalfish (Apogonidae) from the Indo-West Pacific, with a key to apogonine genera. Copeia (3): 718-722.

Gon, O. 1993. Revision of the cardinalfish genus Cheilodipterus (Perciformes: Apogonidae), with description of five new species. Indo-Pacific Fishes (22): 59 p.

Gon, O. & G.R. Allen. 2012. Revision of the Indo-Pacific cardinalfish genus Siphamia (Perciformes: Apogonidae). Zootaxa 3294: 1–84

Gon, O. & J.E. Randall. 2003. Revision of the Indo-Pacific cardinalfish genus Archamia (Perciformes: Apogonidae), with description of a new species. Indo-Pacific Fishes (35): 49 p.

Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea fishes of southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Swainston Publishing. Perth. 180 p.

Mabuchi, K., Okuda, N. & Nishida, M. 2006. Molecular phylogeny and stripe pattern evolution in the cardinalfish genus Apogon. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 38: 90-99

Randall, J.E. & M. Hayashi. 1990. Apogon selas, a new cardinalfish from the Western Pacific. Jap. J. Ichthyol. 36(4): 399-403.

Randall, J.E. & T.H. Fraser. 1999. Clarification of the western Pacific cardinalfish species Apogon trimaculatus and A. rhodopterus, with description of a similar new species. Raffles Bull. Zool. 47(2): 617-633.

Randall, J.E., E.A. Lachner & T.H. Fraser. 1985. Revision of the Indo-Pacific apogonid fish genus Pseudamia, with descriptions of three new species. Indo-Pac. Fish. 6: 1-23.

Randall, J.E., G.R. Allen & R.C. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Second Edition. Revised and expanded edition. Crawford House Publishing Pty Ltd. Bathurst, NSW, Australia. 557 p.

Smith, J.L.B. (1961). Fishes of the family Apogonidae of the western Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Ichthyol. Bull. J.L.B. Smith Inst. 22: 373–418 figs 1–11 pls 46–52

Thresher, R.E. 1984. Reproduction in reef fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Ltd., Neptune City, New Jersey. 399 p.

Weber, M. & Beaufort, L.F. de (1929). The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Anacanthini, Allotriognathi, Heterosomata, Berycomorphi, Percomorphi.  Leiden : Brill Vol. 5 458 pp. 97 figs