Coney (Cephalopholis fulva)

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Coney fact file

Coney description

GenusCephalopholis (1)

The fish (Cephalopholis fulva)  is a relatively small grouper species which occurs in three main colour forms: a red or dark brown form, commonly found in deep water; an orange-brown or bicoloured form, orangey-brown above and pale below, which usually occurs in shallow water; and a yellow (‘xanthic’) form, found in both deep and shallow water (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). In the first two forms, the head and body are covered in small, dark-edged blue spots, while in the yellow form the spots are fewer and are confined to the front part of the head and body. In all colour forms, there are two prominent black spots on the tip of the lower jaw, and also two prominent black spots near the tail (3) (4) (7). Like many groupers, the coney is able to change colour, and at night may take on a pale colouration, with irregular vertical bars and blotches (3) (5) (7). Individuals can also apparently change between the all-red or all-brown form and the bicoloured form, whereas yellow individuals do not appear to change (5). The coney may change to the bicoloured pattern in response to excitement (3) (7), or the pattern may aid in concealing the fish at certain times of day (5).

The fish is most easily distinguished from its close relatives by the convex rear margin and sharp corners of the tail fin, while the black spots on the lower jaw and near the tail are also distinctive (3) (4) (7). In this species, the front part of the dorsal fin has nine spines, and the membrane between the spines is distinctly notched (3) (4). The soft rear part of the dorsal fin is rounded, and the anal fin and pectoral fins are also rounded (4) (7). Although it has been recorded growing up to 55 centimetres in length (2), the coney more usually grows to between 33 and 42 centimetres (2) (3) (8).

Also known as
black guativere, butterfish, deady, lemon-yellow butterfish, negrofish, niggerfish, red guativere, rockhind, small grouper, yellowfish.
Bodianus guativere, Cephalopholis fulvus, Epinephelus fulva, Epinephelus fulvus, Gymnocephalus ruber, Holocentrus auratus, Labrus fulvus, Perca punctata, Serranus caurauna, Serranus ouatalibi.
Cone Ouatabili, Ouatalibi, Tanche, Tanche Grise.
Arigua, Cabrilla Roja, Canario, Cherna Cabrilla, Coruncha, Fino, Guatibero, Guativere, Guativere Amarillo, Mantequilla, Mero.
Total length: up to 55 cm (2)

Coney biology

Usually hunting during the day (1), the fish feeds mainly on small fish and crustaceans, such as crabs and shrimps (1) (3) (4) (7). Individuals may lie in wait in crevices for passing prey, may forage over the substrate, or may even follow other fish, such as moray and snake eels, feeding on prey flushed out by these other fish (1) (3) (7) (9). In addition, juveniles show an intriguing hunting technique known as ‘aggressive mimicry’, in which the juvenile coney joins groups of similarly-sized brown chromis (Chromis multilineata), allowing it to approach unaware prey. The juvenile coney not only resembles the brown chromis in appearance, being yellowish in colour with scattered black spots and orange eyes, but also further mimics this other species by swimming with the fins folded down (9). Coneys in turn may be predated by larger groupers and by sharks (7).

Like other groupers, the fish has an unusual method of reproduction known as protogynous hermaphroditism, in which all individuals begin life as females and later change sex to become males. Female coneys mature at a length of around 16 centimetres, and transform into males when about 20 centimetres long (1) (3) (4) (6) (7). One coney specimen has also shown evidence of ‘synchronous hermaphroditism’, possessing functional male and female reproductive organs at the same time (6). Male coneys are territorial, and form harems of several females (1) (3) (7). Spawning occurs just before sunset over several days (1) (3) (7), and the spawning season ranges from May to August in Bermuda, from January to June in Jamaica, and from December to January in the Bahamas (3) (7). In other areas the spawning season may last much longer; for example, up to ten months off the central coast of Brazil (1). Each female has been estimated to lay between 150,000 and 282,000 eggs (1) (3) (4) (7). The coney has been reported to live to a maximum age of 25 years (2) (8).


Coney range

The coney is found in the western Atlantic Ocean, ranging from Bermuda and South Carolina in the USA, through the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and south as far as southern Brazil (1) (3) (4) (7).


Coney habitat

This species is an inhabitant of coral reefs, preferring clear water at depths of up to 45 metres (1) (3) (4) (7).


Coney status

The coney is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Coney threats

The fish is not currently considered at risk of extinction, as it has a relatively widespread distribution and is fairly common even in intensively fished areas (1). However, as larger commercial fish decline, a shift to smaller target species means that the fish is subject to increasing fishing pressure, and its conservation status will need to be periodically reviewed to ensure that the species has not become threatened (1).


Coney conservation

The coney occurs in a number of Marine Protected Areas, including Atol das Rocas and Fernando de Noronha in Brazil, as well as in several protected areas in the Caribbean (1). There are not known to be any specific conservation measures in place for this common grouper species, but its populations may need to be monitored as fishing pressure increases.

ARKive is supported by OTEP, a joint programme of funding from the UK FCO and DFID which provides support to address priority environmental issues in the Overseas Territories, and Defra

Find out more

To find our more about the conservation of the coney and other grouper species, see:

To find out more about conservation in Bermuda, see:



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Anal fin
In fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of a fish, behind the anus.
Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
Dorsal fin
The unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans.
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
Pectoral fins
In fish, the pair of fins that are found one on each side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.
Protogynous hermaphroditism
A system in which an animal begins its life cycle as a female, but as it ages, based on internal or external triggers, it shifts sex to become a male animal.
The production or depositing of eggs in water.
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2010)
  2. Araújo, J.N. and Martins, A.S. (2009) Aspects of the population biology of Cephalopholis fulva from the central coast of Brazil. Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 25: 328-334.
  3. Heemstra, P.C. and Randall, J.E. (1993) FAO Species Catalogue. Volume 16. Groupers of the World (Family Serranidae, Subfamily Epinephelinae). An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of the Grouper, Rockcod, Hind, Coral Grouper, and Lyretail Species Known to Date. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
  4. McEachran, J.D. and Fechhelm, J.D. (2005) Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. Volume 2: Scorpaeniformes to Tetraodontiformes. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
  5. Nemtzov, S.C., Kajiura, S.M. and Lompart, C.A. (1993) Diel color phase changes in the coney, Epinephelus fulvus (Teleostei, Serranidae). Copeia, 3: 883-885.
  6. Thompson, R. and Munro, J.L. (1983) The biology, ecology and bionomics of the hinds and groupers, Serranidae. In: Munro, J.L. (Ed.) Caribbean Coral Reef Fishery Resources. International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, Manila, Philippines.
  7. Coney Biological Profile, Ichthyology Department, Florida Museum of Natural History (October, 2010)
  8. de Araujo, J.N. and Martins, A.S. (2006) Age and growth of coney (Cephalopholis fulva), from the central coast of Brazil. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 86: 187-191.
  9. Sazima, I., Krajewski, J.P., Bonaldo, R.M. and Sazima, C. (2005) Wolf in a sheep’s clothes: juvenile coney (Cephalopholis fulva) as an aggressive mimic of the brown chromis (Chromis multilineata). Neotropical Ichthyology, 3(2): 315-318.

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