Balistapus undulatus

Family : Balistidae

Text © Giuseppe Mazza


English translation by Mario Beltramini


Often present in public aquaria, the Orange-lined triggerfish (Balistapus undulatus Park, 1797) belongs to the class of the Actinopterygii, the ray-finned fishes, to the order of the Tetraodontiformes and to the family of Balistidae, the so-called trigger- fishes.

The name of the genus “balistapus” comes from the Latin “balista” = crossbow, the same root of the genus Balistes, and from the Greek “apus” = having no foot, because the ventral fins, already atrophied in the Balistidae, have transformed in a spine. The name of the species “undulatus” = undulate, refers to the orange lines which cross obliquely, like waves, the greenish body.


The orange-lined triggerfish is present in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific. We find it along the African coast from South Africa to the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. As an indication, it is frequent also in the Seychelles Islands, Réunion and the Maldives, in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Australia, Indonesia, New Guinea, Micronesia, Philippines, Taiwan and China up to southern Japan. Eastwards, it is at home in Kiribati, Samoa, the Marquesas Islands and Tuamotu. In the southern hemisphere, it reaches New Caledonia and Tonga.


It lives in still waters, in the lagoons rich of corals up to 50 m of depth, even if it prefers to swim in low waters and rarely goes down under the 15 m.

Balistapus undulatus, Balistidae, Orange-lined triggerfish

In Balistapus undulatus, here in horrific posture, the ventral fins have fused in one spine © Giuseppe Mazza


It can reach the 30 cm of length, but practically rarely exceeds the 27 cm. The body is flat, protected like all Balistidae by a cover of bony scales. On the back it has the typical trigger, blockable in erect position. This is formed by three spines, usually folded and hidden in a dorsal casing. The first spine, long and sharp, remains in vertical position also after the death of the fish and is therefore an important deterrent for the predators. As is the custom among the triggerfishes, it serves also for sleeping peacefully without being carried away by the currents.

When a Balistapus undulatus finds a grotto with a small entrance, where it can pass only with lowered fin, it chooses it immediately as den, because it knows that, by erecting the trigger, no big predator will ever be capable to surprise it.

The second dorsal fin has 24-27 soft rays and is symmetrical to the anal, which has 20-24 of them. The pectoral ones have 12-16 unarmed rays, the ventral ones appear fused together in one unique spine and the caudal is rounded in the juveniles and almost truncated in the adults.

The mouth, decidedly small if compared to the body, is armed with solid sharp teeth, for crumbling shells and madrepores.

The body, trapezoidal when the fins are stretched in horrific position, has an unmistakable livery due to the wonderful orange lines which stand out on the greenish background and which interest also the fins. They are absent only on the cheeks of the adult specimens. The caudal, always orange, is preceded on the peduncle by two black lines which remind the evil-minded the presence of spines, and, between the first and the second ray of the trigger, a showy black spot reiterates the warning.

Ethology-Reproductive Biology

The orange-lined triggerfish nourishes of sea urchins and starfishes, crustaceans, ascidians, molluscs, tubeworms, sponges, hydrozoans and polyps of madrepores, mainly belonging to the genus Acropora. In its diet, definitely wide, enter also small fishes and sea-weeds. The eggs are spawned in a nest dug in the sand. The populations can double in 1,4-4,4 years and even if it is fished for the aquaria and consumed by the local populations, the vulnerability index of the species is nowadays moderate: 31 per 100.


Balistes aculeatus viridis Bennett, 1828; Balistes lineatus Bloch & Schneider, 1801; Balistes minor Forsskål, 1775; Balistes porcatus Gronow, 1854; Balistes undulates Park, 1797; Balistopus undulates Park, 1797.


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