to ID fish. What to look for....
identifying a fish, there are several things that you should
be looking for. Below are the terms used in most of the Fish
ID books and guides for the different "parts"
and markings of a fish. Please note that the pictures below
are not of an actual fish. I've just used a generic looking
fish for an easier comparison.
1 page printable version of the 4 diagrams below can be
downloaded here for free.
This file requires Adobe Acrobat to open and print.
When looking at a fish, it is important to take note of the
anatomy of the fish. Notice the Dorsal, Caudal, Ventral,
Anal, and Pectoral Fins. Some fish have a stubby
Caudal Fin, while others are wider and forked. Are there significant
markings on any of these fins? Some fish have a spiky dorsal
fin, and some don't.
does the fish have a barbel? If so, you can probably
narrow it down to the Goatfish
looking at a fish, also try to observe the proportions and
general shape of the body.
the fish long and slender like a Wrasse?
it boxy shaped like a Puffer?
it shaped like a flat oval disc or plate like
is the shape of the tail? The head? The mouth?
thing to look for is what the fish uses to swim. A Parrotfish
uses it's Pectoral Fins to swim, while a Triggerfish uses
it's Dorsal and Anal fins to swim, and of course many fish
use their Caudal (Tail) fin to get around.
Although color can often play an important role in identifying
a fish, it is most often the markings on the fish that
help you find the identity. If you rely on colors alone, you'll
often be back on the beach, scratching your head wondering
what that fish was.
a look and try get used to the markings below. The names used
for these markings are the most used in Fish
ID books. When observing a fish, are those lines on it
horizontal? Vertical? Angled? And what about that spot?
Is it a single spot? Does it have a ring around
it? Is there more than one?
Where are these spots? Where are the lines? These are
some things that you should be thinking of as you try to remember
what a fish looked like. The more you get used to looking
for these things, the easier it will be to spot them out in
Click on a marking on the images below to see a sample of
that particular marking on a real fish!
Start learning what to look for in a fish, and soon you'll be
identifying fish like a pro. And remember to practice, practice,