Planehead filefish
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Tetraodontiformes
Family: Monacanthidae

See text for species

Also known as Fan-bellied leatherjacket, Fan-bellied filefish or Centreboard leatherjacket. This one was found in the nearshore water, Northeast Coast, TAIWAN

Filefish (also known as foolfish, leatherjackets or shingles) are tropical to subtropical tetraodontiform marine fish of the diverse family Monacanthidae. Found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, the filefish family contains approximately 107 species in 26 genera. Filefish are closely related to the triggerfish, pufferfish and trunkfish.

Their laterally compressed bodies and rough, sandpapery skin inspired the filefish's common name; it is said that dried filefish skin was once used to finish wooden boats.


Physical description

Appearing somewhat like squashed trunkfish, filefish are oddly-shaped fish often with dazzlingly cryptic patterns. Deeply keeled bodies give a false impression of size when these fish are viewed facing the flanks. Filefish have soft, simple fins with comparatively small pectoral fins and truncated, fan-shaped tail fins; a slender, retractable spine crowns the head. Although there are usually two of these spines, the second spine is greatly reduced, being used only to lock the first spine in the erect position; this explains the family name Monacanthidae, from the Greek monos meaning "one" and akantha meaning "thorn". Some species also have recurved spines on the base of the tail (caudal peduncle).

The small terminal mouths of filefish have specialized incisor teeth on the upper and lower jaw; in the upper jaw there are four teeth in the inner series and six in the outer series; in the lower jaw, there are 4-6 in an outer series only. The snout is tapered and projecting; eyes are located high on the head. Although scaled, some filefish have such small scales as to appear scaleless. Like the triggerfish, filefish have small gill openings and greatly elongated pelvic bones creating a "dewlap" of skin running between the bone's sharply keeled termination and the belly. The pelvis is articulated with other bones of the "pelvic girdle" and is capable of moving upwards and downwards in many species to form a large dewlap (this is used to make the fish appear much deeper in the body than is actually the case). Some filefish erect the dorsal spine and pelvis simultaneously to make it more difficult for a predator to remove the fish from a cave.

The largest filefish species is the scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus) at up to 110 cm (43 in) in length; most species are below 60 cm (24 in) in length. There is marked sexual dimorphism in some species, with the sexes possessing different coloration, different body shapes, and the males with larger caudal spines and bristles.

scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus) at up to 110 cm (43 in) in length

Habitat and life history

American whitespotted filefish (Cantherhines macrocerus)

Adult filefish are generally shallow water fish, inhabiting depths of no more than about 30 metres. They may be found in lagoons or associated with seaward reefs and seagrass beds; some species may also enter estuaries. Some species are closely associated with dense mats of sargassum, a particularly ubiquitous "sea weed"; these filefish, notably the planehead filefish (Stephanolepis hispidus) are also coloured and patterned to match their weedy environments.

Either solitary, in pairs or small groups depending on the species, filefish are not terribly good swimmers; their small fins confine the fish to a sluggish gait. Filefish are often observed drifting head downward amongst stands of seaweed, presumably in an effort to fool both predator and prey alike. When threatened, filefish may retreat to crevices in the reef.

The feeding habits of filefish vary among the species, with some eating only algae and seagrass; others also eat small benthic invertebrates, such as tunicates, gorgonians, and hydrozoans; and some species eat corals (corallivores). It is the latter two habits which have largely precluded the introduction of filefish into the aquarium hobby.

Filefish spawn at bottom sites prepared and guarded by the males; both he and the female may guard the brood, or the male alone, depending on the species. The young filefish are pelagic; that is, they frequent open water. Sargassum provides a safe retreat for many species, both fish and weed being at the current's mercy. Juvenile filefish are at risk from predation by tuna and dolphinfish.

Filefish as food

Filefish is a popular snack food in Korea. It is typically dried and made into a sweet and salty jerky called jwipo (쥐포), which is then roasted before eating.


  • Genus Acanthaluteres
  • Genus Acreichthys
  • Genus Aluterus
    • Dotterel filefish, Aluterus heudelotii Hollard, 1855
    • Aluterus maculosus Richardson, 1840
    • Unicorn leatherjacket, Aluterus monoceros (Linnaeus, 1758)
    • Orange filefish, Aluterus schoepfii (Walbaum, 1792)
    • Scrawled (scribbled) filefish, Aluterus scriptus (Osbeck, 1765)
    • Aluterus velutinus Jenyns, 1842
  • Genus Amanses
    • Broom filefish, brush-sided leatherjacket, or broom leatherjacket, Amanses scopas
  • Genus Anacanthus
  • Genus Brachaluteres
  • Genus Cantherhines
  • Genus Cantheschenia
  • Genus Chaetodermis
  • Genus Colurodontis
  • Genus Enigmacanthus
  • Genus Eubalichthys
  • Genus Lalmohania
  • Genus Meuschenia
Monacanthus tuckeri (slender filefish)
  • Genus Monacanthus
  • Genus Nelusetta
  • Genus Oxymonacanthus
  • Genus Paraluteres
  • Genus Paramonacanthus
  • Genus Pervagor
  • Genus Pseudalutarius
  • Genus Pseudomonacanthus
    • Four-banded leatherjacket, Pseudomonacanthus elongatus Fraser-Brunner, 1940
    • Strap-weed filefish, Pseudomonacanthus macrurus (Bleeker, 1857)
    • Pot-bellied leatherjacket, Pseudomonacanthus peroni (Hollard, 1854)
  • Genus Rudarius
  • Genus Scobinichthys
  • Genus Stephanolepis
  • Genus Thamnaconus

See also

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • filefish — [fīl′fish΄] n. pl. filefish or filefishes (see FISH) any of various fishes (family Balistidae) of the same order (Tetraodontiformes) as the puffer fish, with a compressed body and very small, rough scales …   English World dictionary

  • Filefish — File fish , n. (Zo[ o]l.) Any plectognath fish of the genera {Monacanthus}, {Alutera}, {balistes}, and allied genera; so called on account of the roughly granulated skin, which is sometimes used in place of sandpaper. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • filefish — /fuyl fish /, n., pl. (esp. collectively) filefish, (esp. referring to two or more kinds or species) filefishes. 1. any of several flattened marine fishes of the family Monacanthidae, having an elongated head with a small mouth and small, spiny… …   Universalium

  • filefish — /ˈfaɪlfɪʃ/ (say fuylfish) noun (plural filefish or filefishes) 1. any of various fishes with rough, granular skin, as Balistoides conspicillum, found in tropical waters of northern Australia. 2. → triggerfish. {file2 + fish1} Usage: For variation …   Australian English dictionary

  • filefish — pilkoji raguotė statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas taksono rangas rūšis atitikmenys: lot. Balistes capriscus angl. common triggerfish; filefish; gray triggerfish rus. курок; серый спинорог ryšiai: platesnis terminas – paprastosios raguotės …   Žuvų pavadinimų žodynas

  • filefish — noun Date: 1681 any of various small mouthed bony fishes (family Monacantidae, especially genera Aluterus, Cantherhines, and Monacanthus) with rough granular leathery skin …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • filefish — noun Any fish of the family , with very slender bodies. Syn: foolfish …   Wiktionary

  • filefish — n. tropical fish that is long and thin …   English contemporary dictionary

  • filefish — noun (plural same or filefishes) a fish with a dorsal spine and rough scales, occurring chiefly in tropical seas. [Family Balistidae: many species.] Origin C18: from file3 (because of its rough skin) …   English new terms dictionary

  • filefish — file•fish [[t]ˈfaɪlˌfɪʃ[/t]] n. pl. (esp. collectively) fish, (esp. for kinds or species) fish•es. ich any of several flattened marine fishes of the family Monacanthidae, having an elongated head and spiny scales • Etymology: 1765–75 …   From formal English to slang

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