Reef Lizardfish, Ambush Experts

A pair of reef lizardfish, photographed in the Philippines.

LIKE ALL LIZARDFISH, REEF LIZARDFISH ARE AMBUSH EXPERTS. With their typical lizard-ish posture of sitting up on their pectoral fins, their M.O. is to lie on the bottom and grab passing prey in the form of small (sometimes surprisingly large) fishes with lightning-fast strikes.

Reef lizardfish (Synodus veriegatus) are Indo-Pacific denizens, one of some 45 species found worldwide in Family Synodontidae.


With colors and markings that help camouflage them, lizardfish are found on corals and sandy bottoms. Sometimes they bury themselves in the sand so only their eyes are visible. But when they strike they do so at lightning speed and can capture prey even several meters above the bottom.

Members of the lizardfish family, a pair of sand divers (Synodus intermedius) bide their time on the bottom at Bonaire, one buried in the sand with only an eye visible.

In coloration, S. variegatus can vary from red to gray and is characterized by dark rectangles along each side. In some individuals, the side markings may appear as a nearly solid dark red band. Like many members of Family Synodontidae, reef lizardfish are often are found in pairs.

Like most lizardfishes, they’re generally found at depths of less than 100 feet. There are some species that live as deep as 1,200 feet.

PRINCIPAL SOURCES: Reef Fish Identification, Tropical Pacific, Gerald Allen, Roger Steene, Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach; Reef Fish Identification, Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach; Synodus variegatus, Encyclopedia of Life; Synodontidae,