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Yellow-headed jawfish

Yellow-headed jawfish

Not on Exhibit

Animal Facts

  • Scientific Name

    Opistognathus aurifrons

  • Animal Type


  • Diet

    small fishes, krill

  • Size

    to 4 inches (10 cm)

  • Relatives

    other jawfishes; Family: Opistognathidae

  • Habitat

    Coral Reefs

  • Range

    on coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea and western Atlantic

Natural History

Yellow-headed jawfish live in patches of sand and coral rubble around the edges of reefs. With no place to hide in these open areas, jawfish dig in, building burrows into the sand. When danger threatens, they dive for cover into their burrow. When the coast is clear, they hover over their burrows waiting to snap up small animals that drift by on the currents.

Always industrious, jawfish keep their burrows shaped up. They line the entrance with rocky rubble so it won't cave in, and they're forever shoveling out mouthfuls of sand. They sometimes raid a neighbor's burrow for choice pebbles and shells.


Coral reefs around the world are in danger. Silt (fine soil) smothers coral when it washes off the land from farm fields, roads and building sites. More towns and resorts near shore mean more sewage, oil and chemicals in the water. Global warming and changes in weather patterns create conditions that corals can't survive.

Cool Facts

The Spanish name for jawfishes is "bocas grandes," meaning "big mouths." Jawfishes use their big mouths like scoops as they move sand and rocks while digging their burrows.

Besides serving as scoops, jawfishes' big mouths come in handy at mating time. The males carry their eggs inside their mouths until they hatch. Males can be territorial; they may use their mouths to "joust" with other jawfishes.

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