Hairtail Blenny, Xiphasia setifer Swainson 1839

Other Names: Eel Blenny, Hair-tail Blenny, Snake Blenny

A Hairtail Blenny, Xiphasia setifer, at the Pipeline, Nelson Bay, New South Wales, Feb 2009, depth 10 m. Source: Dave Harasti / License: All rights reserved


An eel-like sabre-toothed blenny with alternating light and dark bands on the yelllowish-brown head and body, and a blue-edged spot on dorsal fin behind the eye. Hairtail blennies have long-based dorsal and anal fins that are continuous with the tail fin, and large sabre-like fangs in each jaws.

The Hairtail Blenny usually lives in the burrows of other fishes, and divers usually only see the head poking out.

Video of a Hairtail Blenny swimming and feeding in Manado Bay, North Sulawesi, Indonesia in 2004.

A Hairtail Blenny resting on the bottom

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Xiphasia setifer in Fishes of Australia, accessed 20 Feb 2020,

Hairtail Blenny, Xiphasia setifer Swainson 1839

More Info


Tropical and subtropical waters from Exmouth Gulf (Western Australia), around northern Australia to about Eden (New South Wales); also recorded from Lord Howe Island. Elsewhere, widespread in the Indo-west Pacific, from the Red Sea, South Africa, eastwards to Vanutau, southern Japan, and Papua New Guinea.

Lives in burrows on sandy or silty bottoms in depths of 2-150 m in Australia. This nocturnal species is rarely seen away from its burrow during the day.


Dorsal fin XII-XIV, 105-119; Anal fin II, 107-119; Caudal fin (segmented rays) 10.

Body extremely elongate, slender, ribbon- or eel-like. Head small, eye large; jaws with an enlarged fang-like toothpresent on either side of upper and lower jaws.

All fin-rays unbranched. Dorsal and anal fins long-based, continuous with caudal fin. Dorsal fin arises above the eye, gill openings on side of head. Caudal fin sometimes with filaments extending from the centre of fin.


To about 56 cm.


Brownish-yellow with alternating light and dark bands or bars along sides, darker bands continue onto dorsal fin; body paler below. Front of dorsal fin with blue horizontal lines and a blue-edged black ocellus or spot behind the head.


Carnivore - feeds at night on fishes, crustaceans and other invertebrates. Belongs to the group known as "sabre-tooth blennies", all possessing enlarged canine teeth in their jaws used to bite scales a flesh from unsuspecting fishes.


Little is known of the biology of this species. Females lay demersal eggs that adhere to the bottom.


Traded in the aquarium industry, and occasionally caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries.


Adults are occasionally attracted to lights at night and have been dip-netted from the surface.

Species Citation

Xiphasia setifer Swainson 1839, Nat. hist. classif. fishes ... 2: 259. Type locality: Vizagapatam [Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh State, India, Bay of Bengal, eastern Indian Ocean].


Dianne J. Bray


Australian Faunal Directory

Hairtail Blenny, Xiphasia setifer Swainson 1839


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Allen, G.R. & Swainston, R. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Perth : Western Australian Museum 201 pp. 70 pls

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Watson, W. 2009. Larval development in blennies. pp. 309-350. In Patzner, R.A., E.J. Gonçalves, P.A. Hastings & B.G. Kapoor (eds) The biology of blennies. Science Publishers, Enfield, NH, USA. 482 pp.

Williams, J.T. 2014. Xiphasia setifer. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T46080159A48402209. Downloaded on 05 January 2016.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37408001

Biology:Sabre-tooth blenny

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:2-150 m

Fishing:Aquarium fish

Habitat:Burrows in soft bottoms

Max Size:56 cm

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map