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Longfin batfish


Underwater photography: images of snappers, bream and emperors taken while scuba diving
Midnight Snapper | Red Emperor Snapper | Monocle Bream | Longface Emperor | French Grunt

It is often that way that fish from different species groups are confused. So many look almost same – body shape, patterns and actions can all combine to make it hard for an untrained eye to pick the difference between groups like these. Often generically referred to as snapper, the four families described here all have sloping heads and tapered bodies, with a large mouth and notched tail.

Snappers | Class: Actinopterygii | Order: Perciformes | Family: Lutjanidae.
These fish are principally marine and seen frequently around all coral reef systems although a few live and feed in fresh water estuaries. The family includes more than 110 species, some growing to a metre long. Snappers have a single continuous dorsal fin, an upturned snout and prominent canine teeth. They tend to live in large groups.

Bream | Class: Actinopterygii | Order: Perciformes | Family: Nemipteridae
Threadfin or whiptail breams and false snappers are members of this genus. They are found in tropical waters in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans and prey on smaller fishes, cephalopods and crustaceans. Most coral breams are solitary, they have a smaller mouth than snappers and their dorsal fin displays a ridged or comb-like pattern.

Emperors | Class: Actinopterygii | Order: Perciformes | Family: Lethrinidae
Commonly known as emperors, emperor breams and pigface breams, Lethrinidae are found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They have a longer, pointed snout and can change their skin colours and patterns at will. A few species have molariform teeth, which they use to eat shelled invertebrates, such as mollusks and crabs.

Grunts | Class: Actinopterygii | Order: Perciformes | Family: Haemulidae
Known as grunts due to the sound these fish make when they grind their teeth, Haemulidae are seen everywhere in the Caribbean, but especially around seagrass beds and sand flats where they hunt for crustaceans. Grunts are closely related to snappers, but they tend to be smaller with a deeper notch in their tail but do not have canine teeth.

Snappers, Bream , Emperors and Grunts:
image gallery

click any image to enlarge
Int. = intermediate stage
Juv.= juvenile
Var. = variation
Sub. = sub-adult

Snapper encounter

Banda, Indonesia
The Pier, Banda Harbour
6 metres
Macolor Macularis
Midnight Snapper, Juvenile


The Banda Islands in Indonesia are very special. Not only is this where nutmeg was first found (and the only place in the word that it grows naturally) but the waters that surround the islands are rich in marine life.

Right in the heart of town, making a dive near the harbour wall leads over a typical black sand bottom to a sharp slope. With low visibility and fading light, we went down to 30 metres to search for Colman's shrimp and squat lobsters on fire urchins (found), banded pipefish (found), coral banded shrimp, razorfish, snake eels and mandarinfish – all found and photographed.

At the end of the dive as we ascended back up to the shallows, we spotted this amazing juvenile fish – black and white, about 12 mm long and very fluttery. It was sheltering on a hand-made mooring that was covered in young fan corals and small sponges.

Back on the boat, it was straight to the fish ID books to learn it was a midnight snapper juvenile. The adult is in image 1 above and image 2 shows an intermediate or teenager of the species.

SPECIES NAMES | Many fish can be hard to identify as they are so similar. Common names vary and even scientists disagree on what is what. If you can name anything we can't, please get in touch.

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