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Malacanthus latovittatus.jpg
Blue blanquillo, Malacanthus latovittatus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Malacanthidae
Poey, 1861
Subfamilies & Genera[1]

Subfamily Latilinae

Subfamily Malacanthinae

Tilefishes, also known as blanquillo, are mostly small perciform marine fish comprising the family Malacanthidae.

They are usually found in sandy areas, especially near coral reefs.[2]

Commercial fisheries exist for the largest species, making them important food fish. However, the US Food and Drug Administration warns pregnant or breastfeeding women against eating tilefish and some other fish due to mercury contamination. [3] [4] The smaller, exceptionally colorful species of tilefish are enjoyed in the aquarium.


The two subfamilies appear to be morphologically different, with members of Branchiosteginae having deep bodies, large heads, and large, somewhat subterminal mouths. In contrast, members of Malacanthinae are slender with elongated bodies, smaller heads, and terminal mouths.

Tilefish range in size from 11 cm (yellow tilefish, Hoplolatilus luteus) to 125 cm (great northern tilefish, Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a weight of 30 kg.

Both subfamilies have long dorsal and anal fins, the latter having one or two spines. The gill covers (opercula) have one spine which may be sharp or blunt; some species also have a cutaneous ridge atop the head. The tail fin may range in shape from truncated to forked. Most species are fairly low-key in colour, commonly shades of yellow, brown, and gray. Notable exceptions include three small, vibrant Hoplolatilus species: the purple sand tilefish (H. purpureus), Starck's tilefish (H. starcki) and the redback sand tilefish (H. marcosi).

Tilefish larvae are notable for their generous complement of spines and serrations on the head and scales. This feature also explains the family name Malacanthidae, from the Greek words mala meaning "many" and akantha meaning "thorn".

Habitat and diet[edit]

Great northern tilefish, Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps

Generally shallow-water fish, tilefish are usually found at depths of 50–200 m in both temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. All species seek shelter in self-made burrows, caves at the bases of reefs, or piles of rock, often in canyons or at the edges of steep slopes. Either gravelly or sandy substrate may be preferred, depending on the species.[5]

Most species are strictly marine; an exception is found in the blue blanquillo (Malacanthus latovittatus) which is known to enter the brackish waters of Papua New Guinea's Goldie River.

Tilefish feed primarily on small benthic invertebrates, especially crustaceans such as crab and shrimp. Mollusks, worms, sea urchins and small fish are also taken.

After the 1882 mass die-off,[6] tilefish were thought to be extinct until a large number were caught in 1910 near New Bedford, Massachusetts. [7]

Behaviour and reproduction[edit]

Tilefish live in burrows, sometimes forming undersea Pueblo villages. Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps

Active fish, tilefish keep to themselves and generally stay at or near the bottom. They rely heavily on their keen eyesight to catch their prey. If approached, the fish will quickly dive into their constructed retreats, often head-first. The chameleon sand tilefish (Hoplolatilus chlupatyi) relies on its remarkable ability to rapidly change colour (with a wide range) to evade predators.

Many species form monogamous pairs, while some are solitary in nature (e.g., ocean whitefish, Caulolatilus princeps), and others colonial. Some species, such as the rare pastel tilefish (Hoplolatilus fronticinctus) of the Indo-Pacific, actively builds large rubble mounds above which they school and in which they live. These mounds serve as both refuge and as a micro-ecosystem for other reef species.

The reproductive habits of tilefish are not well studied. Spawning occurs throughout the spring and summer; all species are presumed not to guard their broods. Eggs are small (<2 mm) and made buoyant by oil. The larvae are pelagic and drift until the fish have reached the juvenile stage.

In popular culture[edit]

Tilefish was the secret ingredient on the 27 December 2011 episode of Chopped Champions.

Taxonomic Issues[edit]

Great northern tilefish, Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps

The family is further divided into two subfamilies: Branchiosteginae or Latilinae and Malacanthinae. Some authors regard these subfamilies as two evolutionarily distinct families (in which case the former subfamily is recorded as Branchiostegidae).


Quaternary Neogene Paleogene Holocene Pleist. Plio. Miocene Oligocene Eocene Paleocene Branchiostegus Quaternary Neogene Paleogene Holocene Pleist. Plio. Miocene Oligocene Eocene Paleocene


  1. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2013). "Malacanthidae" in FishBase. December 2013 version.
  2. ^ Discoverlife.org
  3. ^ FDA (1990–2010). "Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  4. ^ Melody Joy Kramer (October 17, 2006). "Fish FAQ: What You Need to Know About Mercury". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  5. ^ Baird, Troy A. ""Female and male territoriality and mating system of the sand tilefish, Malacanthus plumieri."". Environmental biology of fishes. 1988 22 (2): 101-116. 
  6. ^ Marsh et al. 1999., Robert. ""The 1882 tilefish kill—a cold event in shelf waters off the north‐eastern United States?". Fisheries Oceanography (1999) 8 (1): 39-49. 
  7. ^ Tile Fish Reappears New York Times (Archives) [New York, N.Y] 2 July 1910: 1. http://nyti.ms/1rfvc9K

Further reading[edit]

  • Eol.org
  • Acero, A. and Franke, R., (2001)., Peces del parque nacional natural Gorgona. En: Barrios, L. M. y M. Lopéz-Victoria (Eds.). Gorgona marina: Contribución al conocimiento de una isla única., INVEMAR, Serie Publicaciones Especiales No. 7:123-131.
  • Breder, C.M. Jr., (1936)., Scientific results of the second oceanographic expedition of the "Pawnee" 1926. Heterosomata to Pediculati from Panama to Lower California., Bull. Bingham Oceanogr. Collect. Yale Univ., 2(3):1-56.
  • Béarez, P., 1996., Lista de los Peces Marinos del Ecuador Continental., Revista de Biologia Tropical, 44:731-741.
  • Castro-Aguirre, J.L. and Balart, E.F., (2002)., La ictiofauna de las islas Revillagigedos y sus relaciones zoogeograficas, con comentarios acerca de su origen y evolucion. En: Lozano-Vilano, M. L. (Ed.). Libro Jubilar en Honor al Dr. Salvador Contreras Balderas., Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León:153-170.
  • Dooley, J.K., (1978)., Systematics and biology of the tilefishes (Perciformes: Branchiostegidae and Malacanthidae), with descriptions of two new species., U.S. Nat. Ocean. Atmos. \.