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The true blennies are the unscaled and blunt-nosed members of the blenniodei, often called combtooth blennies because of their herbivorous dentation. Most of the regional blenniids are not reef-associated but typically occupy rocky shorelines, usually in the more temperate parts of the region. The exception is the large redlip blenny, Ophioblennius atlanticus macclurei, which is very common on Caribbean coral reefs.

Larval true blennies can be recognized by their blunted snout, long and continuous dorsal and anal fins with flexible spines, a somewhat short and narrow caudal peduncle, long strand-like pelvic fins (usually straight, not curled up over the body), and relatively heavy markings (primarily a row of melanophores along the anal fin base, often along with dense markings on the pectoral fins and the top of the head). Many larvae have a prominent preopercular spine that disappears at transition, although smaller spines usually remain on the preopercle. Larval blennioids have large round eyes during their early life history, in contrast to larval scarids, labrids, and gobies in which the eye is often small or narrowed.

Among the closely related families, blenniids can be separated from the labrisomids, tripterygiids and chaenopsids (other than the easily recognized Chaenopsis spp.) by the blunt snout and having fewer dorsal fin spines than rays (except in Hypsoblennius invemar), and from dactyloscopids by having a blunt snout and straight, not curled, pelvic fins.

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