What can you tell me about triggerfish? I see them in aquariums and on restaurant menus.

March 2006

As you noted, triggerfish are both a commercial fish and an aquarium specimen fish.

The queen triggerfish is a favorite aquarium specimen because of its brilliant blue and yellow coloration.

The gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) is the species most often used commercially. It can reach a length of one foot and its cooking quality is excellent. It is consumed fresh, baked, broiled, fried, blackened, smoked, or dried and salted.

The colorful queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula) is consumed in some cultures, however, it is most popular as a display specimen in aquariums.

Triggerfish live in tropical to subtropical waters from Nova Scotia to southeastern Brazil. They are disk-shaped, with a small mouth but very well developed teeth for feeding on invertebrates such as mollusks, crustaceans and other bottom dwelling animals.

The queen triggerfish has stunning colors – vibrant blue stripes and a hot-to-pale yellow body. Gold, dark-centered lines radiate from its independently rotating eyes, and its fins often appear luminous blue. It can reach a length of 2 feet.

An interesting fact about triggerfishes is the long, sturdy spine located in their first top fin, which they can pop up at will. The long spine is “triggered” by a second small spine behind it. When the fish feels threatened, it darts into a nearby crack or crevice and flips up its trigger to securely anchors itself inside. Once locked into position, there’s no getting the fish out.

Triggerfish also have an interesting way of feeding on their favorite food – sea urchins. They blow a jet of water onto the urchin to overturn it, then attack its soft underside.