Bulletin 20 - July 1983: Fishes of the UAE

Fishes of the UAE

by R.W. Brown

In this, the ninth in a series of articles on local fish, two species are described, Thalassoma lunae and Amblygobius albimaculatus. Both are common in the UAE but are more prevalent in some regions than others.

Thalassoma lunae

T. lunae, one of the species Labridae and commonly known as "Moon Wrasse", is a very prominently marked and attractive fish. It is common in the northern and eastern regions but is 'rarely seen on the Abu Dhabi coast. It is possibly more common in offshore Abu Dhabi areas - Das Island natural history buffs may be able to help establish whether this is so or not.


T. lunae has large green scales with reddish-purple head markings. There is a distinct yellow crescent tail marking. All fins have red markings and the dorsal, anal and pectorals carry bluish fringes. The pupils are black with white/blue rings. T. lunae can attain a length of 30 cm, but those observed schooling generally tend to be much less than this (15-20 cm).

Habits and Habitat

T. lunae can be found in shallow depths (5-17 metres) around coral reefs and in rocky lagoons. They are sometimes observed in pairs but more often in schools of 10 or more. One of the best sites found to date is the 'Dara' shipwreck near the Umm al Qawain coast.

This fish tends to be rather shy (especially when approached by camera-wielding scuba divers) and fast moving. They have been seen in schools feeding on small crustaceans.

Amblygobius albimaculatus

A. albimaculatus, one of the species Gobiidae and commonly known as the "White-spotted Goby", is a very shy yet highly territorial fish. Its body markings are rather bland compared to T. lunae.


The body is a pale olive green colour with small brown speckles on the upper part and has seven dark green vertical stripes. The head is reddish-brown above, yellowish-white below, with violet-ringed yellow ocelli on the upper part of head and neck. The pectoral fins are translucent yellow and the tail fin translucent brown with dark specks on the upper part. This fish can attain a length of 12 cms.

Habits and Habitat

A. albimaculatus is almost exclusively a hole dweller. It can be found in most sandy, weedy and shallow areas, often sharing its home with a shrimp or prawn. A symbiotic relationship exists between the two, whereby the shrimp clears the hole of any debris while the fish keeps watch, retreating into the hole with the shrimp when danger threatens. Food scraps left over by A. albimaculatus provide an ample food supply for the accompanying crustacean.

A. albimaculatus is found in abundantly in and around Abu Dhabi. Little is known of its breeding habits but it is thought that they leave their retreats for open water during the breeding season. Since small quantities of this species have been observed along with local prawn catches, some research could be carried out into the precise location of these catches at different times of the year.


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