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The damselfishes are some of the most common and conspicuous coral reef fishes in the region and are often selected as the subjects for ecological and behavioral studies. Their taxonomy is straightforward; there are only four genera in the Caribbean with relatively few species. Two genera include several species each: the ubiquitous Stegastes with six species (and one fresh-water species) and Chromis with two shallow and four deep-water species. There are two Abudefduf species and the single Microspathodon chrysurus. The Caribbean Stegastes have been moved around from genus to genus over the recent past, spending some time as Eupomacentrus and Pomacentrus.

Pomacentrid larvae closely resemble juvenile damselfish in form and are easy to recognize. Larval damselfishes are characterized by a rounded body with a wide caudal peduncle, continuous spinous and soft dorsal fins, large round eyes, a relatively small terminal mouth, and the absence of head spines. Distinguishing species for the larval and newly-settled stages can be a challenge in this family where meristics can broadly overlap, especially within Stegastes. The marking patterns that separate species of Stegastes typically diverge only at the late juvenile stage and new recruits can share many of the features that will later distinguish the species (i.e. ontogenetic homology). The two regional Abudefduf are also very similar as larvae and new recruits. As a result, some descriptions of damselfish early life history and many illustrations of small juvenile damselfishes in guidebooks and on the web are incorrect.


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© by Benjamin Victor


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