The 12 Days of Fishmas: Seven Garibaldis Grooming

Starting Dec. 12, we’ll be blogging the “12 Days of Fishmas.” Each day we’ll feature a different species that you can see during your visit to Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Love this species? Consider our Adopt-A-Fish program and help us keep these animals thriving!

One of the most recognizable fish at Birch Aquarium is the local Garibaldi, a vivacious fish that belongs to the damselfish family. It’s hard to miss these bright orange fish darting around our giant kelp forest tank. Their coloration led biologists to name them after Italian military leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, who dressed his army in bright red tunics. Young Garibaldis have neon blue spots on their orange scales that help them camouflage from predators.

What’s for Dinner?

Garabaldis are exclusively daytime feeders and find most of their food in the rocks. This can include algae, bryozoans, small anemones, sponges, and the occasional worm, nudibranch, or crab.

Grooming Garibaldis

Garibaldis begin to reproduce at about six years old, or at eight to nine inches long, and they take their breeding process very seriously. Unlike many fish, the male Garibaldis raise the young. A father will carefully choose a nest site and will clean off or groom the area of specific algae, only allowing certain types to grow. Once the female has laid her eggs, the male will protect the nest site until the eggs hatch in about two weeks. Because females are choosy about which nests will receive their eggs for fertilization, the male might spend up to a month creating the perfect nest.

The male Garibaldi will guard the nest fiercely, chasing away even the female after she leaves her eggs. These plump little fish can be territorial and aggressive and have been known to charge boldly up to divers and snorkelers that get too close. At these times, they’ll also create a clicking noise in their jawbone loud enough that visitors outside of a display tank can hear them.

Fishy Facts

  • The Garibaldi is California’s State Marine Fish. Although not a threatened species, it was at one point in danger of being over-collected by the saltwater aquarium industry. Happily, in 1995, the California Legislature banned commercial collection of the species until the year 2002 so their numbers have had a chance to revive. Legislation also protects Garibaldi from being fished in California coastal waters.
  • Garibaldi are one of those unusual species that can change its gender if there is an excess of one sex over another.

Come see seven Garibaldis grooming their nests in our kelp tank this holiday season.


Adopt a Garibaldi for the Holidays

Garibaldis are just a few of the 3,000 fish and invertebrates that thrive at Birch Aquarium at Scripps. By adopting one today, you can be part of the team that provides essential care to these special ocean inhabitants. Find out more about the aquarium’s Adopt-a-Fish program.

You Might Also Like

Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego