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October 25, 2001

Heckuva Hawkfish

Q: While rummaging through some old photos my granddaddy took on a long-range trip off Baja many years ago, I came across this shot. He's written on it, "hawkfish." This is one strange-looking critter, odd in shape and full of scrawled markings. Is it really a hawkfish? If so, what is a hawkfish? I'd like to know more about it and the family it's in. If not, then what is this thing? -Rufus DeVine, Jackson, Mississippi A: Rufus, your granddaddy was right on.

Q: While rummaging through some old photos my granddaddy took on a long-range trip off Baja many years ago, I came across this shot. He's written on it, "hawkfish." This is one strange-looking critter, odd in shape and full of scrawled markings. Is it really a hawkfish? If so, what is a hawkfish? I'd like to know more about it and the family it's in. If not, then what is this thing? -Rufus DeVine, Jackson, Mississippi

A: Rufus, your granddaddy was right on. It is a hawkfish, and this particular species is Cirrhitus rivulatus, originally discovered in 1855 from the Galapagos Islands but now known to be widely distributed in the tropical eastern Pacific, including Baja. The hawkfishes (family Cirrhitidae) are a neat little group of about three dozen small, carnivorous and colorful fishes which generally hang around shallow reefs. Most are Indo-Pacific, with only a couple from the Atlantic. They often have very long snouts and peculiar, small, fleshy projections from the membranes between the dorsal spines. Because of their gaudy colors and small size, several species are popular in the aquarium trade. But the species in your photo, known as the giant hawkfish and the largest in the family, reaches nearly 10 pounds and almost 2 feet in length.