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 Text and photos copyright John P. Hoover

past fishes of the month


Ostracion meleagris camurum


Ostracion meleagris camurum - typical Hawaiian male - Three Tables, O`ahu

Ostracion meleagris camurum femal e- Hanauma Bay, O`ahu

juvenile - it even has white spots in the eye

Ostracion meleagris Shaw & Nodder, 1796
     This is Hawai`i's most common boxfish. Females are blackish brown densely covered on all sides with small white spots. Males have dark blue sides with irregular black spots, some of which may have gold centers. They also have gold markings on the head and at the base of the tail. Juveniles with male coloration are never seen, so either immature males have the female color pattern, or all juveniles are female with some changing sex later in life. Spotted Boxfish live in small haremic groups--typically one male to several females--and forage alone within their home ranges for sponges, worms, tunicates and other small bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Males defend territories against other males. These fish often poke around in the shallows where waders and people walking along shore can see them.The species name means "guineafowl" (a bird native to Africa covered with light spots). To about 6 in. Indo-Pacific and Eastern Pacific.

A subspecies or not?
     Outside Hawaiian waters the black spots on the sides of male Spotted Boxfish contain conspicuous bright gold centers. Also, there is a fused line of gold spots along the upper "corner" of the box. Because most Hawaiian males lack these gold spots, the Hawaiian population has long been given the subspecies name camurum. However, males with scattered gold-centered spots on the sides do occur here, and a few individuals display enough spots to almost resemble males found elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific. There is no doubt that the Hawaiian population is different, but given the presence of intergrades (see photos), is subspecies status justified? DNA analysis may someday clarify the situation. However, the concept of a subspecies is not currently in favor, so if the DNA folks decide that the Hawaiian population is sufficiently different, Hawaiian fish would likely be considered a full species with the name Ostracion camurum. Here are some photos of Hawaiian males with an unusual number of gold spots. At bottom, for comparison, is a typical male from Indonesia.

Two Hawaiian males (O. meleagris camurum) with unusual number of gold spots

Typical Indo-Pacific male (Ostracion meleagris meleagris) - North Sulawesi, Indonesia

     Ichthyologist Phillip Lobel, working on Johnston Island (where the Hawaiian subspecies also occurs), records that Spotted Boxfish spawn in the late afternoon or early evening. A male, whose territory usually encompasses those of several females, initiates courtship by circling and nudging one of his females. If she responds, the two swim side by side for a time before rising 6 ft. or more above the bottom, the male leading. Assuming a side-by-side position with tails together and heads facing slightly apart, they release their gametes while one or both make a low pitched humming sound lasting about 6 seconds. When done they dash back to the bottom where the male begins courting another female. At such times other males may attempt to "sneak" a spawn or disrupt the proceedings; fights are common, the rivals ramming each other with their armored bodies creating audible bumps and sometimes producing a short buzzing sound.

Spotted Boxfish courtship - Halona Blowhole, O`ahu. 25 ft.


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  Text and photos copyright John P. Hoover