Urchin Cardinalfish, Siphamia tubifer (Weber 1909)

Other Names: Sea-urchin Cardinalfish, Tubifer Cardinalfish, Urchin Cardinal

Urchin Cardinalfish, Siphamia tubifer, near an urchin on the lagoon slope at Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands. Source: Jeanette Johnson / FishBase. License: CC BY Attribution-Noncommercial


An overall blackish cardinalfish or with an alternating pattern of silvery-white and narrower blackish stripes. This species shelters among long sea-urchin spines.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2022, Siphamia tubifer in Fishes of Australia, accessed 03 Dec 2023, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/4236

Urchin Cardinalfish, Siphamia tubifer (Weber 1909)

More Info


Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia, and Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, to east of Pottsville, New South Wales; also Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean. Elsewhere the species occurs in the Indo-west Pacific
During the day, small to large schools usually shelter among the spines of the longspine sea urchin, Diadema setosum, or the banded sea urchin, Echinothrix calamaris.


Like other cardinalfishes, the Urchin Cardinalfish is a paternal mouth brooder. The male parent orally broods his fertilized clutch of eggs, releasing pre-flexion larvae into the plankton.

The species has an abdominal light organ with symbiotic bioluminescent bacteria that is connected to the intestine by a duct. The light organ develops in larvae after they are released into the plankton and remains free of bacteria for at least 7 days following their release. The bacteria in the light organ emit light as an even glow over the ventral surface, enabling the Urchin Cardinalfish to forage at night.


This species was previously referred to as Siphamia versicolor in most references referring to Australia species prior to the revision of the genus Siphamia by Gon & Allen, 2012.

Species Citation

Siphamia tubifer Weber 1909, Notes from the Leyden Museum 31(2): 168. Type locality: Northeastern point of Timor, Timor Island, southern Malay Archipelago, depth 27-55 m.


Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Urchin Cardinalfish, Siphamia tubifer (Weber 1909)


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

Allen, G.R. & Smith-Vaniz, W.F. 1994. Fishes of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin 412: 1-21 (as Siphamia majimai)

Dunlap, P.V. & Nakamura, M. 2011. Functional morphology of the luminescence system of Siphamia versicolor (Perciformes: Apogonidae), a bacterially luminous coral reef fish. Journal of Morphology 272: 897–909. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmor.10956 (as Siphamia versicolor)

Dunlap, P.V., Kojima, Y., Nakamura, S. & Nakamura, M. 2009. Inception of formation and early morphogenesis of the bacterial light organ of the sea urchin cardinalfish, Siphamia versicolor (Perciformes, Apogonidae). Marine Biology 156(10): 2011–2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-009-1232-z (as Siphamia versicolor)

Dunlap, P.V., Gould, A.L., Wittenrich, M.L. & Nakamura, M. 2012. Symbiosis initiation in the bacterially luminous sea urchin cardinalfish Siphamia versicolor. Journal of Fish Biology 81: 1340–1356. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8649.2012.03415. (as Siphamia versicolor)

Fraser, T.H., Gon, O. & Kraai, M. 2022. Family Apogonidae, Cardinalfishes. pp. 167-223, pls. 52-68 in Heemstra, P.C., Heemstra, E., Ebert, D.A., Holleman, W. & Randall, J.E. (eds). Coastal fishes of the western Indian Ocean. Volume 3. Makhanda, South Africa : South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity : i-ii, 1-469, i-xi, Pls. 1-158.

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

Gould, A.L., Harii, S. & Dunlap, P.V. 2014. Host preference, site fidelity, and homing behavior of the symbiotically luminous cardinalfish, Siphamia tubifer (Perciformes: Apogonidae). Marine Biology 161: 2897–2907. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-014-2554-z

Kuiter, R.H. 1992. Tropical Reef-Fishes of the Western Pacific, Indonesia and Adjacent Waters. Jakarta : PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama 314 pp. pls. (as Siphamia versicolor)

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp. (as Siphamia versicolor)

Kuiter, R.H. & Kozawa, T. 2019. Cardinalfishes of the world. New edition. Seaford, Victoria : Aquatic Photographics, and Okazaki, Aichi, Japan : Anthias, Nexus, 1-198 pp.

Leis, J.M. & Bullock, S. 1986. The luminous cardinalfish Siphamia (Pisces, Apogonidae): development of larvae and the luminous organ. pp. 703–714 in Uyeno, T., Arai, R., Taniuchi, T., & Matsuura, K. (eds). Indo Pacific Fish Biology: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Indo-Pacific Fishes, Ichthyological Society of Japan. (as Siphamia versicolor)

Pogonoski, J.J., Gon, O. & Appleyard, S.A. 2020 Redescription and distributional range extension of the Speckled Siphonfish, Siphamia guttulata (Pisces: Apogonidae). Zootaxa 4766(2): 377-388. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4766.2.6

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs. (as Siphamia versicolor)

Smith, H.M. & Radcliffe, L. in Radcliffe, L. 1911. Notes on some fishes of the genus Amia, family of Cheilodipteridae, with descriptions of four new species from the Philippine Islands. Proceedings of the United States National Museum 41(1853): 245-261 figs 1-3 pls 20-25 (as Amia versicolor)

Tamura, R. 1982. Experimental observations on the association between the cardinalfish (Siphamia versicolor) and the sea urchin (Diadema setosum). Galaxea 1: 1–10.

Tominaga, Y. 1964. Notes on the fishes of the genus Siphamia (Apogonidae), with a record of S. versicolor from the Ryukyu Islands. Japanese journal of Ichthyology 12: 10–17.

Weber, M. 1909. Note IV. Diagnosen neuer Fische der Siboga-Expedition. Notes from the Leyden Museum 31(2): 143-169 See ref at BHL

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37327021

Behaviour:Paternal mouth brooder


Depth:0-100 m (usually 1-18 m)

Habitat:Reef associated, among sea urchin spines

Max Size:5 cm TL

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Species Maps

CAAB distribution map