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Meet ‘alo’ilo’i our Hawaiian dascyllus fish

A healthy Hawaiian coral reef has lots of these very cute fish that do a dance in the sea water right above the live branching corals. When you get to close to them as a diver, they dart into the coral and hide. If you remain calm and still within a few minutes they will all come back out and continue their dance!

These amazing fish live on most all of our shallow water coral reefs and sometimes will have a school of 50 or more that live in one large antler or cauliflower coral.

Often you will see tiny one-inch-long babies together with their five-inch-long adults. They all move in the same rhythm and will dart into the coral at the same time to hide. If there is no healthy coral to hide in these fish get eaten by predators like the omilu so a healthy reef is important for the survival of the ‘alo’ilo’i.

Their Hawaiian name means “bright and sparkling” and they seem to reflect sunlight in shallow water, so it is easy to see how they got their name. The babies are black with a white spot on their sides and the adults can turn almost pure white.

The adults can change from dark to light quickly and at night when they sleep in the branching coral they revert to the color of the babies! Many Hawaiian reef have one color during the day and a totally different color at night!

The Hawaiian dascyllus is in the Damselfish family and they feed on floating algae so they do not have to venture to far away from their coral home. They are fiercely competitive with other fish that may want to invade their coral head.

They chase away other damselfish and will even chase away us scuba divers! They look like they are coming up to us humans to give us a kiss but don’t be fooled.

They will zoom out of their coral home and bite you! They are too small to hurt a person but it is quite amusing to watch because they obviously do not know how small they are compared to us divers.

You can see ‘alo’ilo’i in action up on my educational web page at in my movie, “The Worlds Guide to Hawaiian reef Fish.” You can also have your kids see them in person in our non profit Coral Reef Kids Camp at

Aloha from under the waves.


Terry Lilley, marine biologist, Hanalei,,, All Photographs © 2016 Terry Lilly
Source: The Garden Island

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