Poor Knights marine reserve
the common fishes of the Poor Knights Islands
by Dr J Floor Anthoni (2007)
The common fishes of the Poor Knights have been arranged for easy lookup, by the kind of habitat where they are normally found: pelagic and semi-pelagic, fishes in seaweeds, reef fish, little fishes, fishes in caves, fishes found deep and those found on the sand.
  • pelagic&semi-pelagic: the fishes swimming freely in the open, in schools. See schoolfish. Here are some roaming fish.
  • weed fishes: the fishes associated with seaweeds, either planktivores or those found there.
  • reef fishes: the usually colour fishes such as wrasses, scorpionfishes, perches, groupers.
  • little fishes: the small blennies and triplefins
  • cave dwellers: the fishes that hide in caves, such as bigeyes. (morays have their own chapter)
  • deep fishes: the fishes for which you need to dive deep
  • bottom dwellers: the fishes found resting on or fossicking over the sandy bottoms.

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Rather than arranging the various fish species of the Poor Knights along traditional lines by their philogeny (kinship) and taxonomic groupings, we will be using the above diagram and arrange them according to where they are found. The diagram also shows how New Zealand's rocky shore is zoned. More about this has been done in the chapter about the ecology of the Poor Knights.
Located at the edge of the East Auckland Current, an offshoot of the East Australian Current, one can encounter many 'stragglers' from warmer subtropical waters. In the sixties and seventies (1950-1980?) the water was warmer than today, and stragglers such as various groupers, wrasses, demoiselles, goatfish and knifefish were much more common than today.

pelagic & semipelagic and roaming
The pelagic and semi-pelagic fishes have their own chapter, which leaves some of the semi-pelagic roaming fishes here. The roaming fishes do not have permanent territories. They migrate into and out of the marine reserve. Snapper is at times territorial, roaming and schooling.

kingfish (Seriola lalandi)
f031803: kingfish (Seriola lalandi) school particularly when young, but they also occur singly.
porcupine fish (Allomycterus jaculiferus)
f040726: a porcupine fish (Allomycterus jaculiferus) is always an endearing encounter. With some patience and care, it can be handled and with a little prodding, it will inflate as shown.
blue moki (Latridopsis ciliaris)
f041629: blue moki (Latridopsis ciliaris) belongs in colder waters, but will roam as far north as the Poor Knights. Here is an old and large blue moki raiding a demoiselle's nest.
butterfly perch (Caesioperca lepidoptera)
f048408: the butterfly perch (Caesioperca lepidoptera) lives from plankton, and schools in small groups near its territorial sleeping spot. At night its skin becomes very dark, eventually the dark side spot can no longer be seen. This one is just dozing off at night.
john dory (Zeus faber) is a voracious predator
f050036: the john dory (Zeus faber) is a voracious predator, and although it may seem clumsy, is remarkably successful at catching and swallowing fish as long as its own body, and much heavier.

weed fishes
In this section you'll find not only the weed eaters but also others that are normally associated with the weed zones.
bluefish (Girella cyanea) is a stout fish
f022327: the bluefish (Girella cyanea) is a stout fish that can change its colours from black through blue to grey with orange spots. It feeds on a variety of seaweed. Notice in the distance a grey drummer.
young bluefish (Girella cyanea)
f041136: a young bluefish (Girella cyanea) is changing from grey with orange spots to light blue. These fish can grow very old and they are rather shy.
large old silver drummer (Kyphosus sydneyanus)
f007734: a group of large old silver drummer (Kyphosus sydneyanus) passing nervously close by. They too can change colour from black to almost white, and in between as shown or with vertical bands. It is a coastal fish.
parore (Girella tricuspidata)
f017816: the parore (Girella tricuspidata) is a coastal fish that feeds on fine algal growth on seaweeds. It too is a coastal fish and not numerous at the Poor Knights.
marblefish (Aplodactylus arctidens)
f016906: the marblefish (Aplodactylus arctidens) is a voracious weed eater who maintains patches of short-trimmed seaweeds, which it defends against other grazers. It is often found in wild waters, and is rather shy.

the notch-head marblefish (Aplodactylus etheridgii) looks like the common marblefish but is much less common and does not occur in coastal waters. It is found further north at the Kermadec Islands. Its skin pattern is made up of perfectly round dots and it has a bump (notch) on its head.
female butterfish (Odax pullus)
f051520: a female butterfish (Odax pullus) is yellow green to brown in colour with a dark side band with white dashes.
male butterfish (Odax pullus)
f051515: a young male butterfish (Odax pullus) is bluish with a light side band, and several of its fins are much longer than those of the female. Eventually an old male looks very beautiful.
kelpfish  or hiwihiwi (Chironemus marmoratus)
f052122: the kelpfish  or hiwihiwi (Chironemus marmoratus) is not a weed eater but is associated with the weed zones, especially where rough water is found. Its colour is yellowish to dark green with square blotches.
surgefish (Chironemus microlepis)
f041715: the surgefish (Chironemus microlepis) looks like an emaciated scruffy kelpfish but its five dark back patches are always clearly defined.
black angelfish (Parma alboscapularis)
f020604: the black angelfish (Parma alboscapularis) is a meticulous weed eater who also maintains patches of edible seaweeds like sea lettuce, sea rimu and others. The white ear spot can be turned on and off.
banded wrasse (Notolabrus fucicola)
f049011: the banded wrasse (Notolabrus fucicola) is not a weed eater but is usually found amongst seaweeds, also in the rough bladderweed zone. The one shown here with 7 dorsal bands is an old fish and can be either male or female. There is considerable variation in colour.
f031126: a cave scene at the Kermadec Islands shows some of the fishes also encountered at the Poor Knights. From left to right: yellow banded perch (Acanthistius cinctus), notch-head marblefish (Aplodactylus etheridgii) in a rather red-brown colour, black-spot goatfish (Parupeneus spilurus) and painted moki (Cheilodactylus ephippium) and another yellow-banded perch.

reef fishes
The fishes in this chapter are all territorial even though some may have large territories.
red scorpionfish  or grandaddy hapuka (Scorpaena cardinalis)
f043309: the red scorpionfish  or grandaddy hapuka (Scorpaena cardinalis) is always patient to have its photo taken, a real treat for photographers.
(Scorpaena cardinalis)
f042726: because of their camouflaging colours, one can easily pass by a scorpionfish without noticing it, particularly when the diver has no dive light.
yellow-banded perch (Acanthistius cinctus)
f030934: the yellow-banded perch (Acanthistius cinctus) is like the other groupers a straggler from warmer seas, but it is found in diveable depths.
goldribbon grouper (Aulacocephalus temmincki)
f031818: the gold-ribbon grouper (Aulacocephalus temmincki) is black-blue with a truly golden back stripe on either side. But depending on its mood, it can turn its golden ribbon off.
spotted black grouper (Epinephelus daemelii)
f031332: the spotted black grouper (Epinephelus daemelii) can grow old and large, but around the Poor Knights it is now rarely seen. The one shown here is a young female in business suit, which can change to black, grey, white and brown.
toadstool grouper (Trachypoma macracanthus)
f041717: the toadstool grouper (Trachypoma macracanthus) is not common but encountered now and then. This small grouper or perch normally has small white spots (like a toadstool has), which it can turn off at will. In this photo it is seen sleeping.
red-banded perch (Hypoplectrodes huntii)
f018211: the red-banded perch (Hypoplectrodes huntii) is no longer as common as it used to be, but it has a wide geographical spread, and is also found in colder waters.
half-banded perch (Hypoplectrodes sp.)
f048109: the half-banded perch (Hypoplectrodes sp.) has a green scalp and red-brown bands that reach only half way to its belly. It used to be uncommon but is now frequently seen.
Snapper (Pagrus auratus)
f051105: since all fishing stopped at the Poor Knights in 1998, large snapper as shown here have become much more common. Snapper (Pagrus auratus) is a migratory fish and is found in the shallows at dawn and dusk in summer.
mado (Atyptichthys latus)
f011917: the mado (Atyptichthys latus) is a darling little fish that is a bit lost as far south as the Poor Knights. It is usually found near rocks in deeper water, occasionally joining a local school of pink maomao.
red moki (Cheilodactylus spectabilis)
f045613: the red moki (Cheilodactylus spectabilis) is predominantly a coastal fish but not uncommon at outer islands. It feeds by sucking hard at coralline turfing alga, thereby dislodging hidden crustaceans.
painted moki (Cheilodactylus ephippium)
f036616: occasionally one encounters the painted moki (Cheilodactylus ephippium) from warmer waters. It has the same feeding habit as the more common red moki.
porae (Nemadactylus douglasii)
f048212: the porae (Nemadactylus douglasii) is a loner for most of the year although it congregates inside archways in spring. It mainly feeds from sandy bottoms.
male Sandagers wrasse (Coris sandageri)
f020017: the male Sandagers wrasse (Coris sandageri) is bold, colourful and inquisitive. It is an ambassador for the Poor Knights and follows divers around.
female Sandagers wrasse cleaning demoiselles
f043220: female Sandagers wrasses are more of the working class, seemingly oblivious to divers and always busy feeding or cleaning. Shown here is a young female attending to the parasites of impatient two-spot demoiselles. For the occasion, the demoiselles become soot-black with two bright white spots.
female green wrasse (Notolabrus inscriptus)
f040636: the female green wrasse (Notolabrus inscriptus) is a large wrasse, brownish with fine horizontal stripes and large belly scales. This one is already changing into a male.
male green wrasse (Notolabrus inscriptus)
f020611: the male green wrasse (Notolabrus inscriptus) is bluish-grey with inscribed scales and white dorsal and anal fins. It patrols a large territory with 3-6 females inside. Lately the females have become very rare.
male elegant wrasse (Anampses elegans)
f042923: a male elegant wrasse (Anampses elegans) has a conspicuous yellow ear patch and is beautifully coloured. It can change its colour quite rapidly but the ear patch remains.
f051233: I thought this was an orange wrasse but now have my doubts.
mature male orange wrasse (Pseudolabrus luculentus)
f048529: a mature male orange wrasse (Pseudolabrus luculentus) is deep brown-orange with white-black patches on top as shown. However, it can change colour at night.
female orange wrasse (Pseudolabrus luculentus)
f048531: the female orange wrasse (Pseudolabrus luculentus) can be yellow, green and orange, but always has the fine belly lines behind her breast fins.
spotty (Notolabrus celidotus)
f048823: the spotty (Notolabrus celidotus) is a coastal fish and is not common at outer islands. Females have conspicuous black spot on their sides and yellow hip and anal fins.
male spotty (Notolabrus celidotus)
f049122: the male spotty (Notolabrus celidotus) has lost its side spot but attained a unique dorsal spot instead. It has also lost the yellow colour in its hip and anal fins.
female pigfish (Bodianus unimaculatus)
f010000: female pigfish (Bodianus unimaculatus) was once thought to be a different species. Compare it with the male on right.
male pigfish (Bodianus unimaculatus)
f034701: male pigfish (Bodianus unimaculatus) in spawning colours, with eye stripes and a bright yellow patch. 
female scarlet wrasse (Pseudolabrus miles)
f012614: the female scarlet wrasse (Pseudolabrus miles) has stripes on her lower flanks, and in young females, the white is bright yellow, as are the fins. This female is already changing into a male.
male scarlet wrasse (Pseudolabrus miles)
f030820: the male scarlet wrasse (Pseudolabrus miles) no longer has stripes on its lower flank, and also its fins will eventually turn blue-grey.
crimson cleanerfish (Suezichthys aylingi)
f012612: the crimson cleanerfish (Suezichthys aylingi) has become rare on the Poor Knights, but is very common around the Three Kings Islands. This is a male. Females are orange and white.
leatherjackets (Parika scaber)
f051128: leatherjackets (Parika scaber) stay in groups when young, but later remain inside their territories, fought over by males. This is a female, lacking the vertical band through the tail fin.

little fishes
The little fishes such as blennies and triplefins all live in small territories that they defend. New Zealand is blessed with many species, which are often difficult to tell apart. The little fishes are literally one-bite meals and therefore extremely susceptible to predation, needing the shelter that the rocks and its vegetation provide.
The number of eggs these little fish can contribute to the large pool of eggs in the sea, is very small, so they all have some degree of nest care to enhance their chance of reproducing.
The coastal triplefins such as the common triplefin, the variable triplefin and a host of others are not commonly found at the Poor Knights, perhaps for similar reasons that crayfish are not common and have not returned, even after 20 years of protection. The Poor Knights are simply too isolated for their offspring to settle down on.
Because of their gaudy colours and many costumes, the little fishes are a diver's delight, even though some are hard to find. They all change colour when sleeping. Note that triplefins have three back fins whereas blennies have only one. Gobies have two back fins.
blue-eyed triplefin (Notoclinops segmentatus)
f038217: the blue-eyed triplefin (Notoclinops segmentatus) has beautiful iridescent blue eyes and a white-red banded body.
blue-eyed triplefin (Notoclinops segmentatus) in spawning colours
f033515: blue-eyed triplefin (Notoclinops segmentatus) spawning male has lost its white-red bands and is three quarters orange.
banded triplefin (Forsterygion malcolmi)
f018317: the banded triplefin (Forsterygion malcolmi) is also known as chocolate triplefin, resembling a bar of chocolate. It often lives upside down on the ceilings of small caves.
spectacled triplefin (Ruanoho whero)
f038133: the spectacled triplefin (Ruanoho whero) is recognised by its dark eyes, connected by a dark band. However, it can also become entirely black. It has many costumes.
Yaldwyns triplefin (Notoclinops yaldwyni)
f045536: the Yaldwyns triplefin (Notoclinops yaldwyni) is usually pale brown but always has pairs of dots on its side. Spawning males become entirely orange with greenish heads. The one shown here has an unusual mottled costume.
yellow-black triplefin (Forsterygion flavonigrum)
f048119: the yellow-black triplefin (Forsterygion flavonigrum) changes colour dramatically when spawning. Males become all yellow with black heads.
scalyhead triplefin (Karalepis stewarti)
f034527: the scalyhead triplefin (Karalepis stewarti) is nocturnal and can have many costumes but always a banding pattern. It is very tapered with a large head and usually sits on the rock facing down.
cryptic triplefin (Cryptichthys jojettae)
f034513: the cryptic triplefin (Cryptichthys jojettae) is difficult to find because of its secretive behaviour and camouflage. It is often found where water rushes over very shallow boulders. Males and females differ in colour and they have various costumes as well.
blue-dot triplefin (Notoclinops caerulepunctus)
f048115: the blue-dot triplefin (Notoclinops caerulepunctus) is the smallest at 35mm, and is therefore hard to find. It has also become less common but has a wide geographical spread.
schooling triplefin (Obliquichthys maryannae)
f048535: schooling triplefin (Obliquichthys maryannae) also called oblique-swimming-triplefins, swim in the open but close to the reef, while catching zooplankton. Because they do not have swim bladders, they need to swim incessantly.
crested blenny (Parablennius lacticlavius)
f038222: the crested blenny (Parablennius lacticlavius) is a true slimefish. It is very shy and fast and hides inside holes in the rock from where it cleans parasites from fish. It can grow old.
the mimic blenny (Plagiotremus tapeinosoma) or sabre-tooth blenny is a straggler from subtropical waters. It is often seen in pairs, in open water close to the shore, swimming in bursts. At the Kermadecs it is a thorough nuisance to larger fish as it attacks them for a bite of skin, but here it is often seen cleaning parasites from fish like demoiselles. This fish has become rare in recent times.

cave dwellers
The fishes hiding in caves by day, often come out at night. They are the night shift. Moray eels belong to this group but they have their own chapter.
golden snapper (Centroberyx affinis)
f038425: the golden snapper (Centroberyx affinis) is related to the roughies. It is usually found in deep waters, but also in some caves and archways.
slender roughy (Optivus elongatus)
f041430: the slender roughy (Optivus elongatus) is a very quiet fish but capable of rapid sprints to intercept prey. It lives often in mixed company with bigeyes.
young bigeye (Pempheris adspersis)
f048419: a young bigeye (Pempheris adspersis). When very young, bigeyes assemble in small schools that are out in the open by day. The little ones are yellow in colour and not yet shy of light, but this changes in their first year. 
mature bigeyes in The Labirynth
f034827: mature bigeyes in The Labyrinth, show their typical hideout: a narrow crack, close to a strategic place where plankton floats by.
rock cod (Lotella rhacinus)
f017014: a rock cod (Lotella rhacinus) is a very shy nocturnal predator, by day found hiding in deep cracks. It is a nightmare for photographers.

deep fishes
Some fishes prefer to live in deep water.
copper moki (Latridopsis forsteri)
f034419: the copper moki (Latridopsis forsteri) is usually found in deep water but some pay a visit to the shallows and can be found at diveable depths inside archways. This fish is often found mixed with blue moki, and is more common in the south.
Lord Howe coralfish (Amphichaetodon howensis)
f038724: the Lord Howe coralfish (Amphichaetodon howensis) seen in its typical habitat of the deep reef. Although it is a straggler from subtropical waters, bonded pairs are reasonably common at the Poor Knights.
giant boarfish  (Paristiopterus labiosus)
f006124: giant boarfish  (Paristiopterus labiosus) are usually found deeper than 25m. They are big fish that pair up for life. When young (above), they have very long dorsal spines that shrink with age. Here a group of four giant boarfish are seen hang-gliding on their large hip fins. A tarakihi (Nemadactylus macropterus) has sought their company.

f045410: the long-finned boarfish (Zanclistius elevatus) is a very elegant fish.

long-finned boarfish (Zanclistius elevatus)

female splendid perch (Callanthias australis)
f036503: the splendid perch (Callanthias australis) is found in deep water (40m), always near its deep hideout. It is one of the most spectacularly coloured fishes in NZ. The females (above) are pale by comparison. These plankton-feeding fish are often found mixed with pink maomao.

bottom dwellers
The sandy bottom habitat is always interesting, also because there is precious little of it at the Poor Knights. This chapter looks at the fishes who are usually found there, overlooking the fact that it is also a preferred habitat for wrasses of all kind.
goatfish (Upeneichthys lineatus)
f018610: a goatfish (Upeneichthys lineatus) sleeping at night. Goatfish have two long barbels with which they can stir the sand and taste prey there. So they can also hunt by night. However, they prefer to sleep in safe places. This fish has many costumes.
goatfish (Upeneichthys lineatus)
f020617: goatfish usually do not live long, but some do, like this 20 year old one. Notice how it has changed shape and colour. Mature goatfish are colour masters extraordinaire, and can change completely while you watch.
comb fish (Coris picta) cleaning a group of goatfish
f025326: a comb fish (Coris picta) cleaning a group of mature goatfish, while young goatfish are at the end of the waiting queue. Notice how the one being attended to has become white, spreading all its fins, while opening its mouth wide.
sharpnosed puffer (Canthigaster callisterna) is so cute
f024506: the sharp-nosed puffer (Canthigaster callisterna) or clown toado is one of the cutest fish of the Knights. Smaller than the width of a hand, it is always inquisitive, because it is protected by a poisonous gland inside. Males like this one have a bright white side stripe.
red lizardfish (Synodus doaki)
f025036: the red lizardfish (Synodus doaki) is a fast predator sitting on deep sand as shown here. It has a surprisingly large mouth with sharp teeth. It is not a fixed resident of the Poor Knights and arrives in some summers. The lavender lizardfish (Synodus similis) has a purplish back and is  bit shorter.