Smooth Trunkfish of Key West

When you head out on a Key West snorkeling expedition, you'll see nature and marine life in a whole new way! Among the fascinating fish you'll be able to spot is the Smooth Trunkfish (scientific name: Rhinesomus). These fish are as interesting behaviorally as they are physically.

With their long and relatively thick bodies, the Smooth Trunkfish does not appear to be built for speed in the way that other marine varieties may be. You'll be able to recognize the Smooth Trunkfish with a variety of different characteristics. The most notable and obvious is its black and white spotted pattern. Its black skinned background is covered in tightly packed white spots that can sometimes be so numerous they virtually take over the fish. Its coloring and patterning, therefore, serve to help it hide amongst the rocks, corals, and sandy ocean floors. This otherwise monochrome fish is also able to be recognized by its yellow fins.

Its body shape is also a good way to identify the Smooth Trunkfish. Unlike other fish, which sometimes appear to be widest in the middle with thin portions on both top and bottom, the Rhinesomus is pyramid shaped, with a very narrow top portion, and a wide flat bottom half. This combined with its bulging eyes make for an easily recognized frame.

While the pattern, color, and shape of the fish are all great ways to make the identification, the most unique feature of this species that you may notice is its "lips." Many people, upon seeing the Smooth Trunkfish - in the wild or behind glass at an aquarium - observe that it appears to have very large, puckered lips, as if it's trying to kiss someone. The reason for this is not a structural or physical aspect of the fish, so much as it is a result of behavioral instincts being played out.

The reason for the puckered lips of the fish is that it uses a very special tactic of blowing water out its mouth (relatively continuously) to clear away debris from the ocean floor. Whether it's sand, algae, dead particles of other animals, etc, this debris can make for clever and useful hiding places for crabs, squids, mollusks, and other predators of the species. The predatory animals like to hide under sand and lay in wait to spring surprise attacks on the unsuspecting fish passing by. By blowing water out of its mouth, the Smooth Trunkfish is able to clear away the sand and debris, (much like a leaf blower gets rid of leaves, dirt, and sticks) thereby revealing the predators and ruining their stealth attack plans. Instead, the fish can then make an escape before the attack is sprung.

There's no fish quite like this strange little pucker-lipped, water blowing species. They're one of the more unique fish you'll see on your Key West snorkeling adventure, and they're also one of the more likely ones you'll see, spending most of their time in the top 50 meters of the ocean, amongst coral reefs, and relatively close to shorelines. You'll be able to spot these fun little fish, and many more when you join us for a snorkeling trip you'll never forget!