Titan Triggerfish breeding season and a funny scuba diving story about this occasionally aggressive coral reef fish
This is a scuba diving story about a Titan Trigger Fish. This was on a dive in the Red Sea and it was during the breeding season of these colourful tropical reef fish. We were diving Triggerfish Alley!
If you’ve not come across these fish it’s important to know about their behaviour when they are nesting. During the titan triggerfish breeding season these fish become very aggressive and territorial. Divers need to be mindful of diving near their nests, which can be found on flat sandy areas amongst corals. These feisty fish will attack divers and they have a nasty bite when defending their nest with passion.
I was reminded of this story when writing about scuba diving The Great Barrier Reef and the best time to dive there.
December is their breading season on the Great Barrier Reef. But this story is about scuba diving in the Red Sea.
“My dive buddy and I were scuba diving along Triggerfish Alley. This particularly aggressive Titan Triggerfish took an immediately dislike to my dive buddy. I turned to see her kicking her fins vigorously which was unlike her. Then I saw the reason, she had a Titan Triggerfish snapping at her heals like a Jack Russell Dog. I swam to her rescue like a ‘diver in shining armour’ and all ended well. We swam away from this Triggerfish and she didn’t get bitten.“
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The Titan Triggerfish breeding season
Like other creatures of the coral reefs, the Titan Triggerfish is normally wary of scuba divers. However, during the breeding season the females guard their nest vigorously.
In the breeding season Titan Triggerfish build their nests on a sandy patch. The nest is characterised by a cone shape carefully dug by the Trigger fish. This cone shaped hole is home to its eggs.
Scuba divers sometimes accidentally swim into the nest area, which is what this scuba diving story is about.
The aggression of a Titan Triggerfish in the Red Sea
My scuba diving buddy and I were swimming along Triggerfish Alley, which is known for an abundance of Triggerfish. This is a stretch of water between two coral reefs where the seabed is mostly flat sandy bottom.
Before the dive we were briefed on encounters with this characterful fish. My buddy and I were aware of these fish, having dived there before and around Titan Triggerfish. But it’s not always easy to spot their nests.
I was ahead of my dive buddy, so had already swam past what must have been a nesting area.
I turned to see my dive buddy finning frantically. She was kicking her fins as she hovered vertically in the water. My immediate reaction was to swim towards her, and as I did I could see the cause of her frantic behaviour.
Snapping at he fins and heels was a Titan Triggerfish.
For some reason as I approached, the Triggerfish retreated, perhaps my size frighten it (Perhaps it thought I was a shark!). This gave my dive buddy chance to swim away from the area and to safety.
We both laughed and this cause another dive mask flood for me, as I couldn’t help but laugh. When we surfaced from the dive we laughed more, but I know at the time my dive buddy was fearful of getting bitten by this determined Titan Triggerfish.
Titan Triggerfish teeth and their bite – when attack is the best defence
If you look closely at the above image, you’ll see the fearsome teeth they have.
Triggerfish eat sea urchins, mollusks and coral. You’ll hear them when you’re diving, as they scrape the coral with their strong teeth. Coral is an extremely hard rock-like material, but this is no barrier to this little fish from biting straight through it.
These same teeth will make mince meat of a scuba diver’s fins, but worse still their bite can cause severe bruising or deep flesh wounds.
Mind your ears, as these would make easy pickings for an aggressive Titan Trigger fish in attack mode.
These brave little creatures will attack and hassle other sea creatures (plus scuba divers and snorkelers) that are much bigger than themselves. As we clearly were.
What are the signs that a Titan Triggerfish is going to attack?
Titan Trigger fish don’t usually bite in the first instance. But you will know when they might bite, as there are normally the following stages of aggression, which will get increasingly more aggressive if the warnings are not heeded:
- Raising of their dorsal fin, or ‘trigger‘. This is how they were named, as they have a trigger-like dorsal fin, which is primed like the trigger of a gun.
- They may lie on their side, which is one way they size up the intruder.
- Their swimming will become erratic.
- They will make aggressive charges towards scuba divers and snorkelers. These are intended to warn you away.
- When they charge like this, their ‘trigger‘ or dorsal fin is lowered to streamline their body for the charge.
- If these aggressive challenges are not heeded, the Titan Triggerfish will resort to biting.
- Their moves will become faster and faster. They will circle the intruder looking for weak points (ears are a favourite).
- They will continue to attack scuba divers and snorkelers until the distance between them and you is enough for them to no longer feel threatened.
- But remember this is nature. Nature doesn’t always follow rules and sometimes they may bite on their first charge.
What is a safe distance to keep away from a Titan Triggerfish?
I’ve swum right pass Titan Triggerfish before and nothing has happened. Mostly this is because they are not breeding and near their nest. But as in the above short scuba diving story this depends. I wasn’t attacked, but my dive buddy was.
The best answer to this question is to leave a fair distance between you and the nest site, if you know where it is.
However, the actual safe distance isn’t actually defined by you, it’s defined by the Titan Triggerfish. They will let you know when they feel safe again, as their attacks will stop.
A video showing the aggressive characteristics of Titan Trigger fish
In the above clip, you’ll see some very aggressive behaviour from this confident little fish. The movie clip is courtesy of ‘Fat Fish Movies,’ (Thank you to Fat Fish Movies).
In the clip you’ll see some of the classic behaviours exhibited by the Titan Triggerfish when it’s defending its territory.
These behaviours include: baring its teeth by mouth gaping; laying on its side and sizing up the intruder; raising of the dorsal fin (or trigger); fast and erratic swimming; charging at the intruders; biting, which in this instance was the scuba diver’s fin.
What scuba divers and snorkelers should do when attacked by a Titan Trigger fish
First, prevention is always better than cure. However, as my dive buddy and I discovered, this is sometimes easier said than done.
If you spot a nesting area and you see what looks like a Titan Triggerfish attending to her nest, leave plenty of space. Don’t provoke the fish and don’t swim up to or over the top of nesting area. Observe from afar.
However, as seen from this story, scuba divers can be taken by surprise. You may swim unsuspectingly into a nesting site. If you do, what’s the best course of action?
- Swim away from the nesting site.
- Always remember you are the stranger and you are encroaching on their home. Be respectful and don’t intentionally stress the Triggerfish.
- If the Titan Trigger fish is charging at you, always try to keep the fish ahead of you. Not always as easy as it sounds.
- Use your fins as protection and put your fins between you and the Triggerfish. It’s better they bite your fins than your flesh.
- Keep your arms and hands close to your body. Don’t frail your hands about, as this gives them another target to bite. You hands and fingers would make easy targets for them.
- As you are doing this make sure you are swimming away from the nesting site. When you get to a safe distance away (The ‘safe distance’ is judged and is at the discretion of the Titan Triggersish and not you), the attacks will stop.
What to do it you are bitten by a Titan Triggerfish
If the attack from a Triggerfish results in a bite, you should make sure you clean any open wounds. Triggerfish are not poisonous, but it’s possible to get infected from the bite, as with any wild animal bites.
If you are badly bitten by the Trigger fish, you may wish to seek medical advice or attention.
Video of a Titan Triggerfish, it’s teeth and the softer side of its nature
As you’ll see from this video of the Titan Triggerfish, they are not all about aggression. You’ll see this Triggerfish moving pieces of coral and preparing an area for its nest.
But also you’ll see the teeth than can cause a nasty bite if you get on the wrong side of this coral reef fish.
If you have a scuba diving story you want to share, please complete the contact form on the right column of this page (or at the bottom of the page on mobiles). I’d love to hear your about your scuba diving short story and to share it with my scubadivingearth.com followers.
Read another scuba diving short story here: My Great White Shark Story In South Africa (But Didn’t Get To Dive With It)
I hope you enjoyed this scuba diving story about Titan Triggerfish breeding season attack in the Red Sea
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Have fun and be safe!