Discover 10 Spectacular Fish Found in Madagascar

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: February 6, 2023
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Madagascar is an island off the coast of southeast Africa. It sits in the Indian Ocean just across the Mozambique Channel from the mainland of Africa. As an island, you know there will be some amazing sea life, including spectacular fish. There are also a few fish species in the lakes and rivers of Madagascar. Read on to discover 10 spectacular fish in Madagascar!

1)  Reef Stonefish

Reef stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa) swimming.

Reef stonefish (

Synanceia verrucosa


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©Vladimir Wrangel/

The reef stonefish is one of the most unique-looking fish in Madagascar! It doesn’t look like a fish but more like an algae-covered rock. They are extremely well camouflaged with wart-like protrusions and a coloration that matches the rocks and coral of the bottom of the sea. Reef stonefish can be between 14-24 inches long, with most in the 14-20 inch range.

Reef stonefish are sneaky fish that wait for an unsuspecting prey to swim by, and then they attack and swallow their prey. They eat crustaceans, shrimp and small fish. Reef stonefish have an amazing defense mechanism of 12-14 dorsal fin spines that can inject potent venom. Did you know stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world?

2) Coelacanths

Two living species of coelacanths are left from this fish, referred to as a “living fossil.” Many of the same characteristics remain from the first coelacanths that can be traced back more than 400 million years ago. The modern West Indian Ocean Coelacanth is blueish with irregular white splotches and has lobed fins that almost appear arm-like. Coelancath are deep-sea fish living at depths up to 2,300 feet.

The West Indian Ocean Coelacanth was first discovered off the coast of Madagascar near the Comoros Islands. Researchers published a study in the South African Journal of Science stating that their research “provides the first comprehensive account of Madagascar coelacanths and demonstrates the existence of a regionally important population and extensive suitable habitat, correcting an earlier hypothesis that coelacanths in southwest Madagascar were strays from Comoros.” These fish are still extremely rare, but other groups have been found along the coast of East Africa.

3) Black Marlins

Black marlin

Marlins can grow to be quite large, up to 300 pounds!

©Al McGlashan/

Black marlins look like swordfish with a long pointed bill that looks like a sword at their front. They have a triangle-shaped dorsal fin that tapers off as it gets closer to the tail. Black marlins are black to dark grey on the top and silverish on the bottom. They look similar to blue marlin, and it can be hard to tell the difference from a distance. The black marlin is a massive fish reaching more than 700kg (1,500 pounds). They are also known for their speed. Billfish like black marlins, swordfish and sailfish are some of the fastest fish in the sea. You can charter a deep-sea fishing excursion off the coast of Madagascar if you want an opportunity to try to see (or catch) one of these spectacular fish!

4) Giant Trevally

Giant trevally are large silvery fish in the jack family. These strong, full-bodied fish have pectoral fins that stick out from their side and a forked tail. Anglers target these fish because they put up a good fight and are quite an impressive catch. The larger ones range in size from 5 ½ – 6 feet and average around 130 pounds; however, they have been recorded at 176 pounds! They can be found anywhere close to shore, foraging in estuaries at sea. Giant trevally are agile hunters, and while most of their diet is fish and crustaceans, they can leap out of the water and snag a low-flying bird!

5) Dogtooth Tuna

Dog Tooth Tuna, Underwater, 2015, Animal Wildlife, Animals In The Wild

The dogtooth tuna is a torpedo-shaped fish with silvery to blueish skin.


Like other tuna, the dogtooth tuna is a torpedo-shaped fish with silvery to blueish skin. What makes them unique is their canine-like teeth, 20 on top and 20 on the bottom, which their name is derived from. They use their teeth to catch prey like mackerel, herring, sprat and squid. These tuna are pretty good-sized, reaching lengths of around 5 feet and weighing about 40 pounds; however, some larger catches have been recorded. The IGFA All-Tackle record dogtooth tuna weighed 236 pounds 15 ounces, caught by Jon Patten in Tanzania. The coastal waters of Tanzania are just north of Madagascar.

In Madagascar, you can charter a boat out of Nosy Be, one of the small islands north of the main island, to try your hand at spearfishing for dogtooth tuna. While looking for tuna, you will most likely encounter a variety of other spectacular fish.

6) Madagascar Butterfly Fish

Try snorkelling along one of the magnificent coral reefs to see some of the most colorful fish in Madagascar. There are several hot spots for snorkeling and diving, but the reef off the southwestern coast is the largest off Madagascar. Here you will find a variety of butterfly fish and small tropical fish in the family Chaetodontidae. They have the same shape as angel fish but without long-flowing fins. The Madagascar butterfly fish has a bright orange vertical stripe at its end and an orange stripe on its tail. Their heads are silvery with a black vertical marking by the eye and a black spot on their forehead. The bodies are white to light grey with dark grey vertical stripes that follow the body’s contour. Madagascar butterfly fish are around 3-4 ½ inches, with the largest being about 12 cm (4.75 in).

7) Clownfish

Cute anemone fish playing on the coral reef.

Clownfish have a symbiotic relationship with anemones.

©Kurit afshen/

Another spectacular fish found in Madagascar is the clownfish. These popular orange and white fish became well known after the 2003 movie Finding Nemo. There are around 30 species of clownfish, but the ones you may be most familiar with are the false clownfish and orange clownfish. They both look very similar, orange with three vertical white bands with black edges. Clownfish are around 3-4 inches long with a maximum length of 4.3 inches. For comparison, that is about as long as a credit card.

Orange clownfish are sometimes called clown anemone fish because of their unique relationship with sea anemones. Sea anemones have venomous tentacles, but clownfish are immune to venom due to mucus covering their skin. The sea anemone provides shelter for the clownfish, and the clownfish, in turn, cleans parasites off the anemone. The Barren Isles archipelago, off the west coast of Madagascar, has some of the healthiest reef systems. You can imagine the variety of colorful sea anemones, cucumbers and coral formations that exist alongside the spectacular fish.

8) Tilapia

The largest lake in Madagascar is Lake Alaotra, located on the north-central plateau in the heart of the rice-growing region. Lake Alaotra is 350 square miles, but the lake and surrounding wetlands cover 2,789 square miles. Many locals depend on the lake for fisheries, but the lake is becoming increasingly shallow and smaller, especially during dry periods. Tilapia are the main fish found in the lake, with the Nile, longfin and redbreast tilapia all being introduced to the waters. These fish belong to the Chiclid family and are the same shape as sunfish. They are silver in color and are typically under 10 pounds, but there are some exceptions. The largest Nile tilapia on record was a 13-pound 3 ouncer from Zimbabwe. Still, the largest redbreast is quite a bit smaller, with the record redbreast tilapia only being 3 pounds 9 ounces (caught in Namibia).

9) Common carp

Common Carp (

Cyprinus carpio


©Martin Pelanek/

Common carp can be found in the lakes of Madagascar. They were introduced in the 1950s and are one of the most commonly caught in inland fisheries, along with tilapia and black bass. Common carp are heavily scaled fish with two barbels coming out of the side of their heads. They are golden brownish to cream and can get pretty good sized. The largest common carp on record was 75 pounds 11 ounces caught in France. The longest one on record was from Japan and was 102cm (3.35 feet).   

10) Fairy mullet

The fairy mullet is a ray-finned fish in the Mugilidae family or mullet family. While they live in freshwater like the estuaries along the coast and freshwater streams, they migrate back to the ocean to spawn. Fairy mullets look like large minnows with a similar body shape but can reach lengths of 30 inches. Besides Madagascar, these mullets can be found on the Comoros, Reunion, Mayotte and Mauritius islands, all located around Madagascar.

There are more than 10 spectacular fish in Madagascar, but this list gets you started. With a reputation for having some of the most diverse wildlife, Madagascar does not disappoint in the fish department either!

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Vladimir Wrangel/

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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