Malacanthidae being the designated name for most Tilefish, includes a large family of fish. Some scholars have argued that the Latilinae family is also one of the foundations, with all subspecies appropriately being named Tilefish. 

Tilefish absolutely love burrowing in tunnels, and since they are generally shallow-water fish, this is to be expected. Since Tilefish inhabit temperate and tropical seas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, running into them while scuba diving is to be expected.

Appearance

The two subfamilies appear to vary physically, with members of the Latilinae possessing broader bodies with ridges and heads that span in appearance from circular to rectangle-shaped. Species of the Malacanthidae, on the other hand, are slimmer, with extended bodies, no ridges, and a domed head. Tilefish vary in size and weight from 4.3 in, like the yellow tilefish to 49 in, like the great northern tilefish.

Tilefish with a blue head swimming around the rocks
Tilefish with a blue head swimming around the rocks.

Credit: François Libert

It must be stated that in the vast family of tilefish, a few stand out more than the rest, thanks to their vivid and unique color patterns. The purple sand tilefish, Starck’s tilefish, and redback sand tilefish are the most prized species of Tilefish for aquariums.

Diet

The documented benthic creatures that Tilefish eat include crabs (spider, galatheid, and Paguridae), which make up the majority of their diets. They also consume conger eels, Atlantic hagfish, various fish, bivalve mollusks, polychaetes, and sea anemones. Additionally, they consume pelagic or near-bottom species, including silver hake, Atlantic mackerel, Atlantic herring, tiny spiny dogfish, salps, squid, and hyperiid amphipods. 

According to reports, tilefish devour human waste, including potato peels, bones with leftover meat, and more. We must note that the diets and feeding preferences of tilefish larvae are unknown. However, they almost certainly graze on zooplankton.

Habitat

Tilefish are mostly shallow-water fish that may be found in the temperate and tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans between the depths of 160 to 330 feet. All species go for safety in their own-built burrows, caves at the bases of reefs, or rock piles, frequently in canyons or on the sides of steep hillsides. Based on the species, either gravelly or sandy ground may be favored.

A couple of Tilefish in their natural habitat
A couple of Tilefish in their natural habitat

Credit: Jacopo Werther

The adults of tilefish have been observed and photographed using rocks, boulders, and the scour depressions beneath them. Exposed rocky ledges, upper slopes, flanks, and shoulders of submarine canyons are prime locations for Tilefish since they are shelter-seeking animals.

Reproduction

Despite the fact that tilefish are grouped together in their preferred environment, they are not regarded to be schooling fish. Although the spawning behavior is unknown, it may be pair-specific because male and female couples frequently share burrows and exhibit pair-bonding behaviors. By forming a pair, a female would be more likely to periodically release eggs that would need to be fertilized by a male. 

With dominant males controlling access to numerous females within a constrained region, mating may be socially controlled. Females may choose a partner based on the size and color of the frontal head flap. Between May and September, tilefish are most active, spawning serially or in small batches.

Threats

Since Tilefish resort to burrows, it is intended as a means of avoiding predators and other hostile creatures. Tiny young tilefish are occasionally preyed on by spiny dogfish and conger eels, but cannibalism by adult tilefish is by far the most prominent predator of small tilefish. They also discovered that sea lampreys parasitize tilefish, particularly throughout the winter and spring.

Single Tilefish in modest size using the sand as a way to not spike attention
Single Tilefish in modest size using the sand as a way to not spike attention

Credit: Ken Clifton

Because a few subspecies of Tilefish are considered edible, mass fishing is one of the risks. Low quantities of hazardous metal and organic pollutants have been discovered in numerous Tilefish tissues, which is most usually linked to man-made pollution.

Facts about the Tilefish

  1. There are around 40 kinds of tilefish in the wild, each with its own look and environment.
  2. The majority of tilefish live alone and create their own burrows to hide.
  3. Tilefish come in a variety of hues, including violet, magenta, turquoise emerald, and grayish, yellow, or gold.
  4. The majority of tilefish are poisonous to humans because of the high amounts of mercury that have accumulated in their bodies.
  5. Because they frequently need to swim swiftly to elude predators and hide in their burrows, tilefish have extraordinarily quick swimming speeds.


FAQ

Why are they called Tilefish?

Although fishermen simply abbreviated its name to tilefish, it was designated the scientific name Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps, which means “the crested tilus with a head like a chameleon.” This was done for convenience reasons since select types of Tilefish are consumable.

How long does a Tilefish live?

They are ray-finned fish, which are a group of long-lived, slowly evolving perciform fish. A tilefish may live for up to 60 years on average, with the females living between 46–48 years.

How much does a Tilefish weigh?

A tilefish may weigh up to 50 lbs and often weighs between 10-35 lbs. The great northern tilefish, which reaches 40 to 66 lbs, is the biggest species of tilefish. The yellow tilefish, which is the smallest tilefish and is found in shallow areas, can weigh up to 0.11 lbs. The golden tile or golden tilefish are other names for the great northern tilefish.

Are Tilefish dangerous to humans?

Tilefish are not dangerous to humans. As a matter of fact, they are quite shy, meaning that on coming in contact with a human, they would simply swim away. Tilefish cannot attack humans in any meaningful way. However, consumption of this fish is associated with high levels of mercury, which is aversive to humans.

What are the most beautiful Tilefish species?

Out of the 40 species of Tilefish, the purple sand tilefish, Starck’s tilefish, and redback sand tilefish are the most aesthetically pleasing. Their vibrant hues make them stand out from the rest of the species.