Chaetodipterus faberAngelfish(Also: Atlantic Spadefish; Moonfish; Threebanded sheephead; Threetailed porgy)

Geographic Range

This fish is the only member of the family Ephippidae found in the Western Atlantic (Snyder & Burgess, 2016). They can be found in the Western Atlantic as North as New England and as South as Southern Brazil (Menezes & Buckup et al., 2003). Living in the water spanning from Massachusetts down to South Brazil and over the Antilles of the Gulf of Mexico (Felder & Camp, 2009). Found among the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cayman Island) and the Lesser Antilles (British Virgin Island, Grenada) (Smith-Vaniz & Jelks, 2014). Also live among the Pelican Cays of Belize (Smith & Tyler et al., 2003). Known to be found in the Gulf of Mexico (Felder & Camp, 2009). Have been seen in the estuaries of the River Caeté of Brazil (Marceniuk & Caies et al., 2017). Found as deep as 115 feet deep, but most of the species activity is above 65 feet of water (Horst & Lane, 2006). Has been introduced in places like Bermuda (Goodson, 1985).


Can be found in open ocean habitats with both mud and sandy bottoms; have been found in low salinity and turbid water (Smith & Tyler et al., 2003). Demersal species, lives near hard substrates and coral reefs (Felder & Camp, 2009). Prefer either marine or estuarine habitats (Marceniuk & Caies et al., 2017). Specimens up to a pound can be seen inshore by jetties and wharves and in the open water off beaches (Hoese & Moore, 1977). Also found near bridges (Goodson, 1985). Bigger fish are found offshore by wrecks, reefs, and oilrigs (Hoese & Moore, 1977). A number of adults and juveniles invade estuaries of lagoons and coastal rivers (Snyder & Burgess, 2016).

Physical Description

Body shape looks like a “spade” on playing cards (Humann, 1989). Body is deeper than it is long in length (Horst & Lane, 2006). Chaetodipterus faber ’s dorsal fin is deeply notched and nearly separate (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Have scaly head and fins (Robins & Ray et al., 1986). They have teeth that are brush like; mouth small and terminal (Walls, 1975). Margin of preoperculum is finely serrate (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Number of gill rakers found on first arch number 7-8 on the upper limb and 9-10 on the lower limb (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Pectoral fin contains 17-19 rays (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Dorsal fin contains 8-9 spines and 21-24 rays (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Anal fin contains 3 spines and 18-19 rays (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Presents truncated caudle fin in juveniles and emarginated in adults (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Atlantic Spadefish have a rounded pectoral fin, no strong, sharp projections posteriorly from the gill cover (Shipp, 1988). Adults take on a black-and-white banded pattern that is very characteristic of the species (Hoese & Moore, 1977). They can have a silvery to tan, with 3-4 dark gray to brown bands across body (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). The black bars can be lost in more elderly fish (Hoese & Moore, 1977). Small juveniles are between 2cm and 30cm (Stokes, 1980). Young are blackish to dark brown, accompanied with a molting of white spots (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Appearance thought to mimic plant debris, especially mangrove seed-pods (Snyder & Burgess, 2016).


Young spade fish are small, darkly pigmented, and round in shape (Hoese & Moore, 1977). The young float on the surface mimicking floating debris like seeds or wood (Hoese & Moore, 1977). The world record for Atlantic Spadefish is 14 lbs; it was caught in 1986 in the Chesapeake Bay Virginia, USA (Shipp, 1988).


Spawning occurs in open waters sometime between May and September (Horst & Lane, 2006). This species creates large aggregations for spawning (Horst & Lane, 2006).

Spawning behavior required groups above structured habitats, with individual pairs doing a courting ritual, which results in a lip lock prior to rushing toward the surface to release the eggs and sperm (Snyder & Burgess, 2016).

Known to spawn several times in a season, with many individual females making a million eggs per year (Horst & Lane, 2006). Eggs known to hatch quickly, within 24 hours at about 80 degrees (Horst & Lane, 2006).


Spadefish can grow quickly reaching 18 inches in 5 years, which is 75 percent of their maximum length (Horst & Lane, 2006). Growth between 5 and 10 years old slows dramatically and after 10 years growth is not noticed (Horst & Lane, 2006). This species is known to live at least 19 years (Horst & Lane, 2006). Can reach 3feet; 91cm (Hoese & Moore, 1977). Maximum size known is 900mm in total length (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Known to get up to 9kg. (20lbs) in weight (Robins & Ray et al., 1986).


Have a pelagic life style (Marceniuk & Caies et al., 2017). Young often seen in shallow water, swimming at an angle, looking like dead leaves and similar plant debris (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Schools of Chaetodipterus faber have been seen in open water (Hoese & Moore, 1977). Atlantic Spadefish can form schools of over 500 individuals (Horst & Lane, 2006). Known to readily take a baited hook (Böhlke & Chaplin, 1968). Often seen circling a diver closely, thought to be attracted by the bubbles (Humann, 1989).

Communication and Perception

No information found for this species

Food Habits

The diet of Chaetodipterus faber ’s diet supports their attraction to obstructions (Horst & Lane, 2006). They eat both planktonic and benthic invertebrates (McEachran & Fechhelm, 1998). Their diet also includes encrusting animals, plants, jellyfish, sponges, soft corals, tunicates, sea cucumbers, feather stars and sea anemones (Horst & Lane, 2006). Noted as preferring shellfish as food (Robins & Ray et al., 1986). Seen nibbling at barnacles and on shell incrusted sea walls (Allyn, 1969).


The juvenile’s mimicry allows young to hide in plain site from predatory birds and fishes (Snyder & Burgess, 2016). Since they have small mouths and flat bodies ill-suited for prolonged chases. Atlantic Spadefish do not typically prey upon forage fish (Shipp, 1988).

Ecosystem Roles

They eat a wide variety of small marine animals and are one of the handfuls of fish that eat jellyfish (Shipp, 1998).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Edibility noted as good (Goodson, 1985). In spite of references listing the meat as “excellent”, the flesh is known to have a fairly dark gray color and a distinct musty taste (Horst & Lane, 2006). Their flesh is said to de firm, keeps well, and possess a fine flavor (Böhlke & Chaplin, 1968). Said to be attractive as a broiled main dish, recommended to cover in toasted almonds (Shipp, 1988).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is no known negative impacts of Atlantic spadefish on humans.

Conservation Status

Atlantic Spadefish are, listed as a species of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature List of Threatened Species (Roberts & Vega-Cendejas et al., 2015). They are seen as a game fish and used in aquaculture as a food fish; sometimes Atlantic Spadefish can be found in the aquarium trade (Roberts & Vega-Cendejas et al., 2015). Although there are incidences of localized declines in parts of their range, exploitation is not being considered as a major threat to the species global population (Roberts & Vega-Cendejas et al., 2015).

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Link Morgan (author), Louisiana State University, Prosanta Chakrabarty (editor), Louisiana State University.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


uses touch to communicate


Allyn, R. 1969. Saltwater Florida Fishes.

Böhlke, J., C. Chaplin. 1968. Fishes of the Bahamas and Adjacent Tropical Waters.

Felder, D., D. Camp. 2009. Gulf of Mexico Origin, Waters, and Biota. Vol1.

Goodson, G. 1985. Fishes of the Atlantic coast. Stanford University Press: 65.

Hoese, H., R. Moore. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico Texas Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters.

Horst, J., M. Lane. 2006. Angler's Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico.

Humann, P. 1989. Reef Fish Identification.

Marceniuk, A., R. Caies, M. Rotundo, R. Alcântara, W. Wosiacki. 2017. The icthyofauna (Teleostei) of the Rio Caeté estuary, northeast Pará Brazil, with a species identification key from northern Brazilian coast. Pan-American Journal of Aquatic Sciences: 42.

McEachran, J., J. Fechhelm. 1988. Fishes of th Gulf of Mexico.

Robertson, R., M. Vega-Cendejas, W. Smith-Vaniz, H. Perez-Espana. 2015. Chaetodipterus faber. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015.

Robins, R., Douglass. 1986. A Field Guide to Atlantic Coast Fishes of North America.

Shipp, R. 1988. Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico.

Smith-Vaniz, W., H. Jelks. 2014. Marine and inland fises of St. Croix, U. S. Virgin Islands. Zootaxa: 81.

Smith, C., J. Tyler, W. Davis, R. Jones, D. Smith, C. Baldwin. 2003. Fishes of Pelican Cays, Belize. Atoll Research Bulletin, 497: 66.

Snyder, D., G. Burgess. 2016. Marine Fishes of Florida.

Stokes, J. 1980. Collins Handgude to the coral Reef Fishes of the Caribbean.

Walls, J. 1975. Fishes of the Northern Gulf of Mexico.