Goatfish species identification guide

A very common fish at snorkeling depth

This page presents the species of the Mullidae family, commonly called goatfish or red mullets. 77 species have been identified around the world. Characterized by a pair of chin barbels, an elongated body, and forked tails, they are rather easy to identify.

Difference of coloration of the gold-saddle goatfish
Some species of goatfish, such as the gold-saddle goatfish, can have different colorations. Here, two pairs of gold-saddle goatfish in Lagon de l’Hermitage, Réunion.

Goatfish are often seen on sandy bottoms, using their barbels to probe the sand or holes in the reef for food. The larger species of red mullet can reach up to 60cm in length, but most individuals seen at shallow depths are 20 to 35cm-long on average.

Goatfish are an important fishery in many parts of the world and are therefore more common in protected areas.

Which species of goatfish will I spot while snorkeling?

In the Caribbean, the yellow goatfish is the most common species. It is easy to see in many locations, especially on sandy bottoms. In the Indo-Pacific, the yellowfin goatfish and the yellowstripe goatfish are frequently seen in large schools, including in shallow lagoons.

A school of yellowfin goatfish in Hawaii
Juveniles yellowfin goatfish are commonly seen in large schools. Here in Turtle Town, Hawaii.

Some goatfish have a variable coloration. This is the case of the gold-saddle goatfish, which occurs from the Red Sea to French Polynesia, and which can be either completely yellow or bluish with a small yellow saddle above the base of the tail.

Locally, other species of goatfish are quite common, such as the doublebar goatfish in Reunion Island, or the manybar goatfish in Hawaii. In the Mediterranean, it is the striped red mullet that you will commonly spot, especially in the marine reserves.

Caribbean & Western Atlantic goatfish

Indian & Pacific Oceans goatfish

Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic Ocean goatfish

Discover more fish families

Butterflyfish & bannerfish

Sergeant major




Marine life ID guide

See all fish families

Still trying to identify a fish you've seen?
Ask our experts!

    Our underwater life experts are here to help you identify a species you've seen. Please specify where you saw this species and, if possible, attach a photo

    You can upload pictures in .jpg, .png and .bmp format. Files in .JPG (capital letters) can't be uploaded with this form. Please modify the file extension with .jpg before uploading.

    Check out our selection of fish identification guides!

    Fish ID
    Fish ID book on the beach

    Want to learn more about the species you’ve observed or photographed underwater?

    The identification guides are true treasures for those curious to know about the underwater world, and a beautiful way to dream about your future snorkeling explorations!