What Is a Squirrel Fish?

Squirrel fish live in coastal tropical waters from the Americas to Africa.
Squirrel fish live in coastal tropical waters from the Americas to Africa. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Squirrel fish are a tropical species native to the shallow, salty coastal waters along the equator. Typically found around coral reefs and ocean grass beds, squirrel fish are nocturnal creatures and are very independent as adults. Many aquarium enthusiasts house squirrel fish as they are non-aggressive and interesting to watch.


Squirrel fish received their name as a reflection of their large, dark eyes that resemble those of a terrestrial squirrel. A squirrel fish's body is flat and predominately red in color with gold and silver stripes along its scales. The spiky dorsal fin that sits upon its back is yellow and green. A squirrel fish's teeth, located on its jaws and on the roof of its mouth, are small and resemble the bristles of a hair brush. Squirrel fish commonly grow to be about 10 inches long.


Squirrel fish live in tropical waters along the coasts of North, Central and South America, stretching from Florida to Brazil, as well as along the east coast of North and Central Africa. These fish can also be found in the waters of the Caribbean and the West Indies.


Squirrel fish require salty, marine water to live in. They are typically found swimming in water measuring 100 feet deep around shallow coral reefs, although they do swim to deeper waters -- down to 600 feet. If you choose to house squirrel fish in your aquarium, set up plants and rocks so they have places to hide during the day while they rest.


Younger squirrel fish will group together, while adult squirrel fish tend to travel alone. These fish are not known to be aggressive or territorial. To communicate with other squirrel fish, they produce popping and cracking sounds by grinding their teeth, as well as by vibrating the muscles in their gas (swim) bladder.


Squirrel fish feed on small larvae and eggs, like shrimp and crab larvae. They will also feed on smaller fish and crustaceans. Since squirrel fish are nocturnal, they search for prey along sandy ocean bottoms and sea grass at night, then rest and hide in dark crevices during the day. When caring for a pet squirrel fish, feed them small live fish or meaty shrimp.

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