Fishbase.org lists 351 species of cardinalfish within the Apogonidae family. Of all the ones I’ve encountered (and in all honesty, it’s just a small chunk of ’em) Apogon imberbis has to be my favorite.
First off though, I have to admit to a blatant piece of fabrication: the lead image in this post is very, very wrong. It’s actually flipped 180 degrees – it’s upside down! Those fine hydrozoans are actually growing from the roof of the cave that this fish is sheltering in. I rotated the image for no reason other than the fact that I think it looks better.
I came across this fish on a recent trip to the Mediterranean. In the image above, you can see part of the reefscape I was exploring. Several cardinalfish and a few damsels are taking refuge under an overhang, topped with a good growth of seagrass (Posidonia oceanica).
A. imberbis has been impressing me for over a decade, but I have found them hard to shoot, so I’m very happy with this pic, even if I am cheating. I’ve always assumed this is THE cardinalfish, the type of specimen that gives its name to the rest of the family, in the same way that Anthias anthias is the type for all the rest of the clan (If anyone knows better then please let me know); the two species can often be found living together.
A little further along was a fine looking grouper (Epinephelus marginatus).
A. imberbis is found across the Mediterranean and Eastern Africa. The fish shelter in cave mouths and overhangs during the day and disperse onto the reef to feed at night.