Trumpetfish, Aulostomus chinensis (Linnaeus 1766)

Other Names: Chinese Trumpetfish, Pacific Trumpetfish, Painted Flutemouth, Painted Flute-mouth, Spiny-back Trumpetfish, Spiny-back Trumpet-fish, Trumpetfish

A Trumpetfish, Aulostomus chinensis, shadowing a Bluespotted Coral Trout, Plectropomus laevis, at Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, April 2014. Source: Geoff Shuetrim / License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial


A voracious predator with a long slender compressed body, a tubular snout and a series of short dorsal-fin spines along the back. The colour pattern is highly variable and trumpetfish can rapidly change colour. 

These cunning ambush predators rely on stealth and camouflage to sneak up on unsuspecting prey. They often hunt smaller fishes by 'hitching a ride' alongside other larger fishes, or camouflage themselves by drifting head down among large corals.

Fabulous footage of a Trumpetfish swimming above a Bluespotted Coral Trout, at Lady Elliot Island on the southern Great Barrier Reef.

Video clip of a Trumpetfish suction feeding - played back in slow motion.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2017, Aulostomus chinensis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 17 Apr 2024,

Trumpetfish, Aulostomus chinensis (Linnaeus 1766)

More Info


Known in Australian waters from southwestern Australia northwards around the tropical north to the lower New South Wales coast in eastern Australia; also on reefs in the Coral Sea, at Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island in the Tasman Sea, Ashmore and Cartier Islands in the Timor Sea, and Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling Island in the eastern Indian Ocean. 

Elsewhere the species is widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific from the East African coast to Panama, and Norfolk Island, Kermadec Islands, and Australia to Japan.

Trumpetfish inhabit clear inshore and offshore coral and rocky reefs and reef slopes. Juveniles may be found in subtropical waters. Larger individuals have been observed in caves at depths of up to 200 m (Bowen et al. 2001).


Dorsal fin VIII-XII, 23-27; Anal fin 26-29; Pectoral fin 17; Pelvic fin 6; Lateral scale rows 350 (approx).

Body elongate, compressed, head long, mouth small at the end of a long tubular snout; small fleshy chin barbel present. Two dorsal fins are present; the first comprised of 8-12 short, isolated dorsal-fin spines, the second a short soft dorsal fin far back on the body. The anal fin is similar to and below the soft dorsal fin. The pelvic fins are abdominal, about halfway along the body, and the caudal fin is small.


To a total length of 90 cm, although most individuals only grow to about 80 cm.


Colour pattern highly variable - most commonly greyish to reddish-brown with pale stripes, or a yellowish to greenish brown form, sometimes with horizontal and/or vertical bands.

A black stripe is often present on the upper jaw, and the dorsal and anal fins have a dark basal bar. The tail fin usually has with two round black spots, and there is a black spot at the pelvic-fin base. Individuals can rapidly change colour.


Trumpetfish are relatively poor swimmers and rely on camouflage and stealth to ambush small fishes and crustaceans. They may remain motionless, often in a head-down position waiting for approaching prey. Alternatively, they often stalk their prey by shadowing or swimming alongside other larger fishes. Prey is sucked in through the tubular snout when the gill membranes and ventral snout surface are rapidly expanded.


The sexes are separate and fertilisation is external. Trumpetfish are pelagic spawners.

The eggs are small, pelagic, spherical, 1.3-1.4 mm in diameter. The larvae are very long and laterally compressed, 4.8 mm at hatching. Small juveniles are epipelagic, and larger juveniles inhabit seagrass and soft coral areas.


Of minor commercial importance and of minor interest for the aquarium trade.

Similar Species

Although flutemouths are somewhat similar to Trumpetfishes, they lack dorsal-fin spines and have a long filament protruding from the middle of the tail. 


Aulostomus is from the Greek, aulos meaning flute and stoma meaning mouth.

Species Citation

Fistularia chinensis Linnaeus 1766, Systema Nat. ed. 12, 1(1): 515, East Indies.


Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2017

Trumpetfish, Aulostomus chinensis (Linnaeus 1766)


Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp.

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

Aronson, R. 1983. Foraging behavior of the west Atlantic trumpetfish, Aulostomus maculatus: use of large, herbivorous reef fishes as camouflage. Bulletin of Marine Science 33(1): 166-171.

Bowen, B.W., A.L. Bass, L.A. Rocha, W.S. Grant & D.R. Robertson. 2001. Phylogeography of the trumpetfishes (Aulostomus): ring species complex on a global scale. Evolution 55(5): 1029–1039.

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.

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Walker, H.J. jr. 2000. Aulostomidae (Trumpetfishes), In Leis, J.M. & Carson-Ewart, B.M. (eds) The Larvae of Indo-Pacific Coastal Fishes: An identification guide to marine fish larvae. Brill, The Netherlands.

Wheeler, A.C. 1955. A preliminary revision of the fishes of the genus Aulostomus. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (12)8(92): 613–623.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37277001

Behaviour:'Shadows' other fishes

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:1-125 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:90 cm TL

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map