I recently posted about cardinals and how they got their name: how one red fish in the Mediterranean gave its name to a family of fish found across the globe.  On a similar theme, I thought I’d have a quick look at the ‘original’ chromis, another fish from the Med.

Chromis chromis is a widespread species; I think I’ve seen a shoal of them on just about every dive I’ve ever had in the Med.  They’re so common that I tend to overlook them entirely, which is a shame, as the juvenile is a very pretty fish with intricate blue markings.  These are lost as the fish matures and it becomes quite drab.  The fry are quite spectacular with a prominent blue streak.

C. chromis are found throughout the Med, the Black Sea, and the Eastern Atlantic where they are occasionally caught for the kitchen.  I suspect they will become the favorite food of Lionfish as they spread throughout the region.

I took this photo in a market in Croatia; you’d need quite a few of them to make a decent meal.

So what’s in a name?  Well, the Chromis was officially named by Linnaeus according to Fishbase.org, though another source suggests Cuvier redefined the species in 1814, after Linnaeus’ earlier classification of Sparus chromis.


A mixed shoal, the C. chromis are the drab brown fish.

As for the meaning of ‘chromis’, well, according to Fishbase again, chromis simply means ‘a fish, perhaps a perch’.  A quick dig on Merriam Webster offers a confusing entry that could take you down a real linguistic and etymological rabbit hole.  If we have any classics scholars reading this, please let me know if I’m on the wrong track entirely.

I personally find this quite unsatisfying and I was hoping for something a little more interesting. However, the fact remains that this is the first fish to be used to define the rest of the family.

Typical C. chromis territory.

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