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The Hawkfish – Genus Cirrhitichthys

Falco’s HawkfishThe genus Cirrhitichthys is the largest group of hawkfish represented by 8 different species. The name Cirrhitichthys comes from the Latin “cirrhi”, or “cirri”, meaning filament or fringe, and “ichthys” which simply means fish. As their name suggests, the fish in this genus are distinguished from other hawkfish by the filamentous tufts on the end of their dorsal spines.

Cirrhitichthys, like all other hawkfish, are protogynous hermaphrodites. That means all hawkfish are born as females, but rely on environmental triggers to incite one female to become a dominant male. They are typically found perching high up on corals, watching below for small crabs and shrimp which they swoop in to eat, much like a predatory hawk. The fish prop themselves up with their large, skinless pectoral fins. Because these fins are skinless, they do not feel the sting of the corals they perch upon, so a coral colony can offer protection to these smaller fish.  Hawkfish are generally quite active during the day, hopping from one perch to another in search of food. They are generally hardy and disease free. They should be offered meaty foods such as mysis shrimp and squid, but their greedy nature will lead them to snatch up pellets, flakes and pretty much anything else you offer. Just like any fish, variation in their diet and vitamin supplements will help to maintain health and coloration.

Members of this genus generally range in size from about 3-5 inches, making them ideal for small reef aquariums. But don’t let their diminutive size fool you. These fish can become pugnacious.  It usually doesn’t take long for a hawkfish to get comfortable in a fish tank. While hawkfish don’t go out of their way to bully tankmates, they do become territorial. Making the hawkfish one of the last additions to the tank can sway this behavior by limiting available territory for the hawkfish to claim. Hawkfish are generally solitary fish, and as such they will not likely get along with conspecifics (fish of the same type). I wouldn’t recommend putting a member of Cirrhitichthys in any aquarium smaller than 20 gallons.  While the members of Cirrhitichthys are small, you should be cautious with tankmates. Fish that I would recommend include:

Anemonefish and Damsels
Basslets and Pseudochromis
Reef safe wrasses
Reef safe Triggerfish

Fish to avoid as tankmates include:

Spotted HawkfishSmall Gobies and Dragonets
Some Chromis
Smaller Cardinalfish
Darfish and Firefish
Flasher Wrasses
Small Blennies
Sea Horses

Many invertebrates also mesh well with Cirrhitichthys. These fish are reef safe, but small shrimp and crabs will likely be on the menu for your small hawkfish, particularly when they molt. However urchins, sea stars, larger crabs, and even sea cucumbers will all be safe. Whether you’re new to the hobby, or a salty seasoned aquarium keeper, members of the genus Cirrhitichthys are a great addition to almost any marine fish tank.

Look for these and other Cirrhitichthys species that are common to the aquarium trade:

Latin Name: Cirrhitichthys aprinus
Common Name: Spotted Hawkfish, Threadfin Hawkfish
Adult Size: 4.5-5 in.
Notes: Hardy, easy to care for, yet slightly more shy than other hawkfish. Can be kept as a male/female pair (the male being the larger of the two.) Make sure there are plenty of hiding spots for this fish to explore, and do not keep with very aggressive tankmates.


Latin Name: Cirrhitichthys falco
Common Name: Falco’s Hawkfish, Dwarf Hawkfish
Adult Size: 3 in.
Notes: Very hardy, and less aggressive than some individuals in this genus. Can have a striking blue coloration in it’s fins and tail, and bright yellow tufts on each dorsal spin. A personal favorite of mine. My last Falco’s hawkfish became very personable, often coming to the front glass of the aquarium every time I was near the tank. This fish is a great choice for beginners.


Panamanian Hawkfish, C. oxycephalusLatin Name: Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus
Common Name: Pixie Hawkfish, Coral Hawkfish
Adult Size: 3-3.5 in.
Notes: Though small in size, this is one of the more territorial members of Cirrhitichthys. They are well known for chasing other fish twice their size out of their territory. When kept in larger tanks, they’re less likely to cause problems. They are attractive fish with bright white, red, and even blue coloration.



Jeff Berdel

Falco’s Hawkfish image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Nicolai Johannesen
Spotted Hawkfish image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jens Petersen

Panamanian Hawkfish image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Laszlo Ilyes

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