Peacock grouper (Cephalopholis argus)

Also known as: Argus grouper, blue-spotted grouper, peacock hind, peacock rockcod, worldwide-peacock rockcod
Synonyms: Boadianus jacobevertsen, Bodianus guttatus, Cepahlopholis miniatus, Cephalopolis argus, Epinephelus argus, Serranus guttatus, Serranus immunerur, Serranus myriaster, Serranus thyrsites
French: Loche Saumonee, Merou Celeste, Merou Paon, Saumonee, Vielle Cecille, Vielle Cuisinier, Vielle La Pruda
Spanish: Cherna Pavo Real
GenusCephalopholis (1)
SizeTotal length: up to 55 cm (2)

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

One of the most widely distributed grouper species (1) (2), the peacock grouper (Cephalopholis argus) is an attractively marked reef fish, with a dark brown to yellowish body covered in many small, black-edged blue spots. The spots are smaller and more numerous on the head, and there are usually five or six pale bars on the rear half of the body, and a large pale area on the chest (2) (3) (4). The fins of the peacock grouper are also spotted, and may be dark blue in colour, usually with narrow white rear edges on the dorsal fin, anal fin and caudal (tail) fin (2) (3). The ends of the pectoral fins may be maroon brown (2). The tail fin is rounded, and the front part of the dorsal fin bears nine spines, with the triangular membranes at the tips of the spines being orange in colour (2) (3) (4).

This widespread fish occurs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, from the Red Sea south to South Africa, and east to French Polynesia and the Pitcairn Islands. In the western Pacific Ocean, the peacock grouper ranges from Japan to Lord Howe Island, off the coast of Australia. The peacock grouper has also been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands (1) (2) (3) (4).

The peacock grouper is a tropical, shallow-water species, found in a variety of coral reef habitats, but most commonly occurring on exposed reefs (1) (2) (3). It has been recorded to depths of at least 40 metres, but generally prefers waters less than 10 metres deep (1) (2) (5).

The peacock grouper lives in social groups consisting of a single dominant male and up to 12 females. Each group occupies a territory of up to 2,000 square metres, and this area is subdivided into smaller individual territories, each inhabited by one female (6). During courtship, the group come together at a specific site, the male swimming alongside each female in turn, aligning himself parallel and pressing slightly against the female’s flanks. Like many grouper species, the peacock grouper is able to change colour, and during courtship individuals may take on a dark colour pattern marked by a single vertical white band on the body (7). The peacock grouper may also change colour in aggressive confrontations with other grouper species (5), and its relatively large size means it is often the dominant individual in such encounters (6). Relatively little is known about reproduction in the peacock grouper (1), but like many other groupers it is likely to be a protogynous hermaphrodite, meaning individuals begin life as females, but change sex later in life to become males (2).

The peacock grouper feeds almost entirely on fish, although it will also take some crustaceans, such as shrimps or lobsters (8) (9). In some areas, most feeding takes place in the early morning and afternoon (5) (8), although in others it has also been recorded at night (9). The peacock grouper is typically an ambush predator, lying hidden among corals or in crevices, darting out to attack passing prey. While lying in wait, the fins may be folded against the body, and the grouper takes on a camouflaging colour pattern. Attacks may also occur when the grouper is swimming in midwater. However, a variety of other hunting techniques may also be used, including following another predator such as a moray eel or octopus and catching any prey which escapes from the first predator. The peacock grouper may also mingle with schools of other fish, hiding within the group and darting out to attack prey that passes close by (8).

The peacock grouper is a widespread and locally abundant species, and is not currently considered at risk of extinction (1). However, it is an important species in artisanal fisheries throughout the Indo-Pacific region (1) (2) and increasing fishing pressure is thought to be causing a decline in some parts of its range (1).

The peacock grouper occurs in a number of Marine Protected Areas, and the establishment of ‘no-take’ reserves appears to play an important role in making fishing of this species sustainable, with peacock groupers growing larger and becoming more abundant within such reserves, so helping to increase catches in adjacent fished areas (1). However, the species may need additional protection in areas of heavy fishing in order to preserve more isolated populations, which are becoming increasingly vulnerable to larger fishing vessels (1).

The peacock grouper has established large populations around the Hawaiian Islands, where it was introduced in the 1950s to establish a new fishery (1) (10). However, in Hawaii, as well as in French Polynesia and the Marshall Islands, this species is blamed for many cases of ciguatera poisoning, an illness caused by eating fish contaminated with ciguatoxin. Produced by single-celled marine organisms known as dinoflagellates, this toxin can move up through the food chain, accumulating in predators such as the peacock grouper. However, the toxin does not appear to affect the grouper itself, and fears over ciguatera poisoning restrict the fishing of this species in some areas (1) (10).

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

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  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2010)
  2. 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:
  3. Randall, J.E. and Ben-Tuvia, A. (1983) A review of the groupers (Pisces: Serranidae: Epinephelinae) of the Red Sea, with description of a new species of Cephalopholis. Bulletin of Marine Science, 33(2): 373-426.
  4. Randall, J.E. (1995) Coastal Fishes of Oman. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  5. Shpigel, M. and Fishelson, L. (1989) Habitat partitioning between species of the genus Cephalopholis (Pisces, Serranidae) across the fringing reef of the Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea). Marine Ecology Progress Series, 58: 17-22.
  6. Shpigel, M. and Fishelson, L. (1991) Territoriality and associated behaviour in three species of the genus Cephalopholis (Pisces: Serranidae) in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea. Journal of Fish Biology, 38: 887-896.
  7. Donaldson, T.J. (1995) Courtship and spawning behavior of the pygmy grouper, Cephalopholis spiloparaea (Serranidae: Epinephelinae), with notes on C. argus and C. urodeta. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 43: 363-370.
  8. Shpigel, M. and Fishelson, L. (1989) Food habits and prey selection of three species of groupers from the genus Cephalopholis (Serranidae: Teleostei). Environmental Biology of Fishes, 24: 67-73.
  9. Harmelin-Vivien, M.L. and Bouchon, C. (1976) Feeding behavior of some carnivorous fishes (Serranidae and Scorpaenidae) from Tuléar (Madagascar). Marine Biology, 37: 329-340.
  10. Dierking, J. and Campora, C.E. (2009) Ciguatera in the introduced fish Cephalopholis argus (Serranidae) in Hawai’i and implications for fishery management. Pacific Science, 63(2): 193-204.