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Tropical Reef Series: the Endearing Trunkfish

The Island Runaways began 2015 with a mission: learn to identify and appreciate more of the creatures which live on the tropical reefs that ring many of the world's most beautiful islands. Snorkeling or scuba diving is one of the best ways to discover the natural beauty of isles like Bonaire, Grenada, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it makes the experience more intriguing to know exactly what you're seeing. So far, we've covered the parrotfish, sea horses, starfish, queen conchs, bluehead wrasses (which can change from female to male), and the hawksbill sea turtle. Our latest addition? That would be the trunkfish:

Island Runaways

(Trunkfish off the island of Curacao. Photo by Lazlo Ilyes, Flickr.)

This unusual looking fish is a cousin of the pufferfish, and has a bony, boxy appearance. On one hand, the trunkfish is lucky, because it has a thick armor of scales for protection. On the other hand, the poor fish can only move awkwardly and slowly. But these innocent-appearing marine animals have a secret weapon against predators.

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(Illustration of a trunkfish. Image from, Flickr.)

The 24 species of trunkfish are able to emit poisonous substances from their skin, which serves as a toxic safeguard from would-be snackers. Let's not forget the ocean may be beautiful, but it's a fish-eat-fish kind of world, and fortunately for trunkfish, their defenses are formidable.

Caribbean travel blog

(A spotted trunkfish among the corals. Photo by Craig D., Flickr.)

You can recognize this odd looking fish by its bony shape, protruding eyes, and pursed mouth. Is it my imagination, or does the trunkfish seem poised to give a kiss? Hopefully, it only feels amorous towards other trunkfish.

Another way of looking at the trunkfish is to imagine its mouth as a mini-trunk, like the tip of an elephant's trunk. This might help me personally remember its name while I'm snorkeling among the corals.


(The pursed mouth of the trunkfish. Photo by Laszlo Ilyes, Flickr.)

If you're gearing up for a snorkel or scuba trip in the near future, off a Caribbean island or on a Thai island reef, we hope our series helps you identify the incredible creatures that swim in the tropical seas. One important note about trunkfish: they're entirely harmless, unless you try to eat one! As long as you're happy to gaze upon them as they go about their oceanic business, it's safe to study these marine beings in their natural habitats. They're simply one more aspect of tropical coral reefs that make us look forward to getting on our masks and fins again.

Do you have a favorite reef creature? Let us know on our Guest Island Experts page so we can feature it in an upcoming Tropical Reef post.

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