Marine life identification guide > Damselfish & sergeant major

Damselfish & sergeants species identification guide

Damselfish and sergeants are all part of the Pomacentridae family, which comprises 30 genera. Of these, members of two genera, Amphiprion and Premnas, commonly called clownfish or anemonefish, have a dedicated page in this guide.

Tiny and colorful fish, easy to spot on the reef

Widespread throughout warm and temperate seas in the World, damselfish are small and generally colorful fish. They are very easy to observe: they often are the first fish you spot after entering the water.

A group of green chomis around branching coral
Green chromis live in large groups around branching coral in the Indo-Pacific. Here, photographed at Gili Meno reef drop off, Indonesia.

There are about 250 damselfish species, from which only 14 live in the Caribbean. These swift creatures especially appreciate coral reefs and rocky shores. Some species, especially belonging to Stegastes genera, can be territorial and come “pinch” snorkelers getting too close to their den.

Where are the different damselfish species found?

Sergeant majors are amongst the most commonly seen damselfish when snorkeling. Those friendly fish go by in groups of various sizes, sometimes just under the water surface.

The Indo-Pacific sergeant can be seen from Red Sea and East Africa to French Polynesia. The Panamic sergeant-major can be spotted in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, while the Caribbean sergeant-major lives in the Western Atlantic Ocean.

The green chromis is unmissable in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It gathers in huge schools of hundreds of fish, often sheltering around Acropora corals.

Juvenile threespot dascyllus in sea anemone
Like closely-related clownfish, juveniles threespot dascyllus may be found associated with sea anemones. Here, a small group found in a Haddon’s sea anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni).

In the Mediterranean Sea, the damselfish can be seen in many places.

Other common damselfish are the whitetail dascyllus (found in most of the Indo-Pacific area), the beau gregory (endemic to the Caribbean) and the Garibaldi damselfish (commonplace along the Californian coast).

Caribbean & Western Atlantic damselfish and sergeants

Indian & Pacific Oceans damselfish and sergeants

Eastern Pacific Ocean damselfish and sergeants

Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic Ocean damselfish

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