Seafriends - Kyphosidae, drummers
Drummers are medium to large fish with rounded bodies. Blue Maomao, Sweep and Parore are most common on northern shores of NZ. Silver Drummer is shy but not uncommon. Bluefish and Mado are found on offshore islands. Males look exactly like females.
Kyphosidae (hunchbacks, Gk kuphosis=bent) or Drummers are coastal reef fishes, found in tropical and warm temperate seas. This family contains about a dozen species, six of which are commonly found in northern NZ. They usually feed on encrusting invertebrate communities and algae but Blue Maomao and Sweep feed mainly on plankton. Their bodies are thickly built and oval shaped and they have one dorsal fin. They are identified by their heads, body and median fins being covered in small, weakly ctenoid (toothed) scales. Jaws have an outer row of fixed incisors with long curved roots but there are no molars.

Kyphosids are an old fish family, its species having diversified: some are plant eaters, others plankton, some feed on encrusting life and there is one that even hunts.


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Kyphosus sydneyanus, Silver Drummer (Au: Buffalo Bream)
Silver Drummer are weed eaters living in the wave zone. They are very shy. They swim fast. They grow very old. They seem to have angry faces, but they are very gentle.

Silver DrummerThe Silver Drummer is a plump bodied fish, a bit like a swimming jerrycan with a black-edged tail that looks much like a paint brush. It is also about the same size as a spare gasoline container, from 30-75 cm and 10Kg when mature. Seeing big, mature Silver Drummer as shown in this photograph, is rare because they are so shy. They hide in caves and large crevices in turbulent areas and they feed on the coarse bladder weeds of the wave-swept subtidal habitat zone. When small they compete for the same food (fine algae growing on tough seaweeds) as Parore but later in life they eat more of the coarse weeds themselves (Carpophyllum species), of which there apears to be ample supply. Because their food is so readily available, Silver Drummer spend much of their time socialising and resting. They feed mainly at dawn or dusk. Silver Drummer can change colour rapidly from a pale grey without markings, to dark grey with horizontal pinstripes, to evenly black. 

juvenile Silver DrummerVery young Silver Drummer (half year to one year old) have light blue or white spots and look very much like a different species. They find protection in the roughest of places, high up in the surf zone in cracks and caves. Around offshore islands, bigger schools of 50 or more are found swimming in the foam zone. Silver Drummer are threatened by coastal setnets intended to catch bait fish for craypots. They have become rare in many places.

Fishing: This species gives anglers such good sport, appearing in numbers around ocean rocks where there is plenty of movement in the water. They are rated highly because of their outstanding fighting abilities. Drummer are very powerful fish and run with dramatic speed when hooked. They are exciting fish to play as some grow to 30 pounds, They bite warily but rush for sanctuary among the rocks immediately when they are hooked. Real tackle-busters. Flesh greyish and dry with an unpleasant odour. The bigger the fish, the worse its flesh. Not usually eaten.
Description: body plump; size up to 75 cm, 10 Kg, 50-60 years old; colour light grey to black with a darker grey on the back; black band on tail; powerful mouth with close-set teeth forming a sharp cutting edge;

Fins: D XI 12; A II 10; P I 5; moderate scales.

Life history: Silver Drummer breed in NZ. Juveniles appear in January- April.

Distribution: East coast of the North Island to East Cape and Southern Australia. See map


Girella tricuspidata, Parore (Au: Blackfish, Luderick)
Parore are weed eaters. They live close to the mainland. They are smart. They can change colour. They live in small groups and have a complicated social life. They always seem to smile.

The Girella with three-tipped teeth. (Girella=this fish type) (tri-=three, triple) (cuspidare=pointed, cuspis=spear or three-pronged spear of Neptune)

ParoreParore are found in large numbers around northern New Zealand, particularly on our NE coasts. Most start their lives in estuaries where they can be found in schools of many hundreds. They prefer a diet of soft, thready algae that grow on top of the bigger algae. By removing these, Parore provide a cleaning service for these seaweeds. But they have also been seen gobbling plankton shrimps (krill) and feeding on bait. They find their food easy to get so they spend much time socialising and resting. When sleeping, Parore congregate in sleeping dens, very sheltered bowls between rocks or inside the deep parts of estuaries. In these dens, each Parore has its own bed which it defends against others. When sleeping, Parore are nearly black with light squares along its back fin. During the day they are normally seen in pin-striped business suits like on this picture. But they can easily change colour. When completely whitish, they are in a submissive mood, like when being cleaned by little Trevally. When dark coloured, they appear to be in an aggressive mood. There is no outward distinction between males and females but in summer they can be found racing around promontories in schools of many hundreds. In that season they can also be found grazing symbolically while courting. Some fish are then jet black while others are white, possibly signalling their sexual differences.

Parore sleeping denBeing watched by a group of Parore is like being surrounded by a bunch of cheeky schoolkids. They play all sorts of games, like "who dares to come closest?" "let's go around the diver's back", "let's play hide and seek". When observed in aquariums, Parore spend much time sorting out who is boss, sometimes creating a lot of unrest and wounding rivals. They also appear to play politics of domination and group support. Many elements of behaviour point to it being smarter than most other fish. Parore can grow old like the other members of its family but average and maximum age are not known.

Parore like to be cleaned by young Trevally and they try to 'own' one for themselves, going as far as allowing the little fish to sleep with them. When sleeping, Parore lean on the bottom but stay just upright. Bottom dwelling fish such as triplefins, come to clean them during the daytime naps.

Schools of adult Parore often make deep excursions into tidal estuaries where they nibble at mangrove trees and eelgrass. They also digest mouthfulls of green ooze rich in diatoms. It is suspected that many lay their eggs there. Their three-cusped teeth are sharp, forming a shearing edge with which they can tear bits of seaweeds off plants, with a sideways movement of their heads.

Fishing: Parore don't take the bait easily because they are plant eaters and rather smart, but they are easily caught in set nets strung across estuarine tide channels. One can catch a thousand big fish in a single haul. In this manner, Parore have effectively been removed from many estuaries. Cray fishermen catch Parore and other reef fish in their set nets strung across coastal reefs, in order to bait their cray pots. The meat of the Parore is soft and bland but the fish is not eaten because of its supposed habit of eating human excrement. Since sewage is treated everywhere before being discharged, this myth cannot be true.
Description: Body elongate, sideways somewhat compressed. Mature length 40cm. Teeth closely set together as a cutting edge (incisors). Teeth having three points, from which its name derived (tricuspidata= three points). Females have a dominant flat-topped central cusp, more pronounced than that of males. Tail broad, muscular. Skin usually light grey with 10-12 thin vertical stripes.

Fins: D XV 12; A III 12;P I 5;LL 50. Size 20-40cm. Weight 0.5-1.0 Kg.

Life history: Spawning Dec/Jan. Young fish Jan/Feb.

Distribution: Common on NE coast of NZ (250 fish per Ha) and also found all around the North Island. E coast of Australia. See map. Parore are much less common around offshore islands, compared with the coast.



Girella cyanea, Bluefish

Bluefish are found only on some offshore islands. They are big fish with an angry look about them. They are very shy. They change colour.

The dark blue Girella. (Cyan= light blue, Gk kyan=light blue)

The Bluefish is a large fish (9 Kg) with an almost rounded body. It is found around our offshore islands in clear water. Bluefish socialise in small groups of 3 to 10 fish. Bluefish can change colour rapidly from a deep dark blue to black and grey with orange specks.A protrusion above their eyes, gives them an angry look by which they can be identified. Males and females look alike. They feed on encrusting animal life rather than plants.

Fishing : Bluefish will take a bait readily and run for cover in caves and under large boulders. Their flesh is pleasant to eat.

mature bluefish and in the background a silver drummer
f022327: a mature bluefish in dark blue costume. In the background a silver drummer.
young bluefish Girella cyanea
f041136: a young (6year) bluefish in light blue costume, changing from blue to grey with orange specks.

Description: Adults 40-75 cm, up to 9 Kg. Body large and deep. More pointed than Silver Drummer. Long, low dorsal and anal fins and a strong, broad, square-cut tail. Teeth three-cusped like Parore but set in rows. Feed on shellfish, brittle stars, worms, crustaceans.

Fins: D XV 12; A iii 11; P I 5; moderate scales. Size 30-75 cm, up to 9Kg.

Life history: Bluefish may not breed in NZ but juveniles may arrive here by warm currents.

Distribution: Common on Kermadec Islands, east coast of Australia. Found on NZ offshore islands: Poor Knights, Mayor I, White I. Also seen at Kapiti I. See map.

Scorpis violaceus, Blue Maomao
Blue Maomao have become the darlings of the Goat Island marine reserve. They are very friendly. They normally school in the currents around headlands. They eat animal plankton. 

The Scorpis with the violet colour. (scorpis=????) (viola= violet flower (L))

Blue MaomaoBlue Maomao (violaceaous= violet coloured) are schooling fish that stay close to the shore. They feed on animal plankton and sometimes nibble lush seaweeds when plankton is in short supply. Mature Blue Maomao are deep blue above and pale white underneath. They have a forked tail. Their bodies are sideways flattened which allows them to manoever quickly. With their extendable mouths they snap at plankton shrimps that they can herd together with the entire school. They can make the surface foam, pushing their blue backs out of the water. At night each Blue Maomao sleeps on its own spot against the rock and its colour changes to become dark green and mottled. Sometimes they sleep in groups above the sandy bottom in a sheltered spot. Males and females look alike.

blue maomao waiting to be cleaned.
f000623: blue maomao waiting quietly for their turn to be cleaned.
blue maomao inquisitively viewing the photographer. Scorpis violaceus
f045426: blue maomao inquisitively thronging to view the photographer. Notice the sweep amongst them.
snorkeldiver and resting school of blue maomao
f023315: snorkeldiver and a resting school of blue maomao, above Lessonia seaweed.

Blue Maomao spend much time socialising, when the tidal currents fall slack and when food is plentiful. They like to be cleaned by cleanerfish such as Trevally, Combfish and Crimson Cleanerfish, also when there is no apparent reason for this. They also like to rub their backs on pebbly bottoms or sharp points protruding from a rock wall. It is part of their social behaviour. When seeing a diver, they never fail to gather around for a good look or to bite at small bubbles.

Blue Maomao schooling
f011937: three year old blue maomao in a typical school formation.
f034024: a free-diver following a school of young blue maomao.

one year young blue maomao with yellow anal finWhen young, Blue Maomao are not blue yet but they are grey with a yellow anal fin. As they grow bigger, they become more blue and their anal fin loses its yellow colour. As mature fish they are very blue indeed. The young fish are found in very shallow water behind boulders and in crevices in the wave zone, often in company of young Sweep that look very much alike. Around the mainland, Blue Maomao are much smaller than around offshore islands. It has been observed (JFA) that the coastal schools are threatened by poor water conditions, resulting in short life spans and consequential small size. All big Blue Maomao disappeared from our offshore islands and coasts around October 1992, after which populations had to rebuild themselves. It appears that Blue Maomao can grow 10-15 years old.

Fishing: Blue Maomao can easily be hooked on a small hook with bait. Their flesh is very tasty and their guts are small, leaving much edible flesh for such a small fish.
Description: Body oval shaped, laterally compressed. Size 20-45 cm, 3 Kg max. Deeply forked tail. Small flexible mouths with several rows of fine, close-set teeth in each jaw. Schools from 50 to 1000 individuals. Colour iridescent deep blue above, light blue to pale white underneath.

Fins: D IX 27; A II 25; P I 5; small scales. 20-45 cm. Weight to 3 Kg.

Life history: The eggs are spawned from September to November and juveniles are found from October to December. Eggs are 0.8mm in diameter and they have a smooth spherical yolk which contains one oil droplet.

Distribution: Kermadec Islands, Three Kings Is to Cook Strait. Most abundant on the NE coast of the North Island. Although Blue Maomao are occasionally found in Australia, they appear to be endemic to NZ. See map.


Scorpis lineolatus, Sweep, Hui (previously Scorpis aequipinnis)
Sweep look very much like Blue Maomao but they are not as blue. They also stay smaller. They live closer inshore and inside estuaries. They can form large schools.

The scorpis with the wide side line. (linea=line, side-line, L) (latus=wide, L)

Sweep look so much like Blue Maomao that they have for a long time been regarded as a colour variant or subspecies. It has the same fin ray and scale counts. But its life cycle and requirements are different. Under water, Sweep and Blue Maomao are often difficult to tell apart. Sweep are smaller and they occur in small schools of a few dozen individuals to large schools of a few thousand. They start life in the shallows of the mouths of estuaries and in the wave zone sheltering behind boulders. When very young, Sweep have a number of orange spots and dark edges to back and tail fins. They look quite beautiful at this stage. Then they become dark grey but without the yellow belly fin of the Blue Maomao. Their bodies will always remain shorter than that of the Blue Maomao but although usually grey, they can assume a blueish colour as well. Males and females are alike. It appears that Sweep can stand pollution better than Blue Maomao.

Sweep in the aquarium have demonstrated the ability to develop a strategy (for catching food). When competing with Parore, Snapper, Spotty and Leatherjacket for a few hundred small shrimps, it lines up in a corner of the tank and makes a quick pre-planned zigzag through the tank, turns on a dime and repeats it in the reverse direction. Before the other fish, who stay in the middle of the shrimps, have had time to take even 10 percent, the single Sweep has taken 90 percent by himself! Sweep also show strategy in playing a game of tag together or with other fish.
Sweep and Blue Maomao comparedHow to distinguish Sweep from Blue Maomao: Grey colour; fork of tail fin more U shaped and curved than Blue Maomao's V shaped one; fins darker; eyes round, not oval; smaller in size; shorter; more sideways compressed.

Fishing: Not normally fished because of its small size, but it tastes fine.

Description: Sweep is distinguished from Blue Maomao by having more gill rakers (38-45) against Blue Maomao (26-36). Body oval shaped and sideways compressed. Fin tail deeply forked. The NZ Sweep has always been assumed to be the same as the Australian species (Scorpis aequipinnis) but it has recently become apparent that this is not the case.

Fins: D IX 27; A III 25; P I 5; small scales. size 10-25 cm. Maximum 35 cm.

Life history: Juveniles settle while about 1cm long, growing rapidly to 15-20cm in their first year. Juveniles July to October. Eggs smooth and spherical 0.8mm diameter. Diet: copepods, mysids, larvae and other zooplankton.

Distribution: All around the North Island. See map.

Atypichthys latus, Mado (previously Atypichthys strigatus)
Mado are cute fish. They are found in clear water. They nibble animals from the rocks. 

mado Atyptichthys latusThe Mado (atypi=atypical, nonconforming; ychthis=fish; latus=broad; 'atypical broad fish') is indeed the oddball out, with its very flat body, pointed snout and nice colours. Mado are silvery white or yellow with yellow fins and tails and 5-7 parallel brown-yellow bands running from head to tail. Mado graze encrusting animals rather than plants. Mado are usually found in small groups of 3 to 20 in dark areas such as archways and the deep reef habitat zone down to about 60m. These places are also rich in encrusting animal life while poor in plant life. Although Mado may occasionally be encountered along our northern shores, they belong more so to the clear and warm waters of NE NZ. It is not known whether Mado breed in NZ. When young, Mado appear to act as cleanerfish, their small pointed mouths being excellent tools for this.

Although of a wary nature, Mado are also inquisitive and will carefully approach a diver. They may even take food when offered. They are delightful little fish and because they are not very common, are a highlight of a dive.

Fishing: Mado is not normally fished. It does not occur in sufficient numbers and won't take bait easily.

Description: Body laterally compressed. Bright yellow fins. Silvery white with five brown-yellow bands running from fore to aft. (identifying feature). Snout pointed. The outer row of teeth in each jaw is enlarged, reflecting the Mado's grazing habit of scraping organisms off the rock walls.
Fins: D XII 15; A III 15; P I 5; moderate scales. Size 15-25 cm.

Life history: Probably not breeding in NZ.

Distribution: Kermadec Islands, North Cape to Cook Strait. Most common around offshore islands. See map. In Australia the name Mado is used for Atypichthys strigatus (strigatus= streaked), a more slender fish than our Mado. In Australia Atypichthys latus is commonly called Eastern Footballer. A third similar looking species exists, Microcanthus strigatus, or Stripey.

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