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Seargeant major is a small, laterally compressed rounded fish. There is a single nostril on either side of the snout distinguishing it from the butterflyfishes and angelfishes. It has a small, oblique terminal mouth. The upper part of the body is yellowish with 5 vertical black bars. Sometimes a faint sixth bar can be present. There is a black spot at the upper base of the pectoral fin.
Hunting Caye, Belize
This fish uses different color phases for camouflage. The light phase is visible from below when the sergeant major is swimming over the reef, while the dark phase allows the fish to hide in the reef in response to danger. When males guard the red or purple patches of eggs in their nests they become dark bluish.