During offshore dives, fish enthusiasts may spot the grumpy deportment of the coney eyeing them from a hollow in the reef. The coney (Cephalopholis fulva) is an expressive fish with a large golden eye, and markings that can change colour moment to moment. They are small members of the grouper family, which includes the black grouper, the largest fish commonly found on Bermuda’s reefs.
1. Coneys begin life as female, but as they grow bigger, to about 20 cm, most of them transition to male.
2. The “grouper” family name comes from the fact that the fish spawn in large aggregations. Predators or human fishermen sometimes target these spawning groups, which threaten grouper reproduction rates. In Bermuda, male coneys spawn with members of their harem from May to August every day just before sunset.
3. All groupers are prized food fish, and sought after for eating, and though the coney is small, it is no exception.
4. Coneys change colour throughout their lives, and throughout the day. Most young coneys live in deep water and are deep red, while more mature coneys are usually white on the bottom and brown on top. At night, they turn pale, with irregular stripes.
5. Coneys feed primarily on small fishes, but also feeds on small crustaceans. Their mouths are developed to suck food in by water displacement in a rapid motion, swallowing prey whole rather than biting it. In addition, they can use their large mouths to dig into the sand to search for food, or create a shelter.
6. Coneys are sometimes seen hunting alongside moray eels. The eel is able to flush small fish out of the reef with its smaller body, where waiting coneys can polish off the prey.