Skip to main content

The oral cavity and bioluminescent organs of the cardinal fish species Siphamia permutata and S. cephalotes (Perciformes, Apogonidae)


The mechanism of bacterial-derived bioluminescence in the apogonid species Siphamia permutata and S. cephalotes presents some special structures, particularly the existence of two sites harboring bioluminescent bacteria, and not only one as previously described. One site, is the familiar disc-like, bacteria-harboring “gland” and paired ventral “bioluminescent reflectors”, typical for this genus, that merge and end at the level of the hypobranchial region. The second and more anteriorly situated site of luminescence features two sacs that originate in the gular region and protrude into the oral cavity, via the free space left by the laterally notched tongue. The apical parts of these luminous sacs harbor the bacteria whose light diffuses within the oral cavity. The tongue surface in the studied species is unique in character among the cardinal fishes, being criss-crossed anteriorly by protruding dermal ridges, rich in taste buds and mucus-producing cells. It would appear that at night when feeding, the luminous mouth cavity of these fish acts as a lure to attract the small prey, while the ridged structure of the tongue’s surface facilitates their collection and aggregation before they are swallowed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1a–i
Fig. 2
Fig. 3a–d
Fig. 4a–c


  1. Allen AR (1993) Cardinal fishes (Apogonidae) of the Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, with descriptions of three new species. Rev Fr Aquariol 20:9–20

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bond CE (1996) Biology of fishes, 2nd edn. Harcourt Brace, Philadelphia, San Diego

  3. Debelius H (1986) Fischpartneren Niederer Tiere. Reimer Hobbing, Essen GFR

  4. Dunlap PV, McFall-Ngai MJ (1987) Initiation and control of the bioluminescent symbiosis between Photobacterium leiognathi and leiognathid fish. Endocytobiology III 503:269–283

    Google Scholar 

  5. Eschmeyer WN (1998) Catalog of fishes. San Francisco Acad Sci 3:1821–2905

    Google Scholar 

  6. Fishelson L (1970) Spawning behavior of the cardinal fish, Cheilodipterus lineatus in Eilat (Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea). Copeia 1970:370–371

    Google Scholar 

  7. Fishelson L (2003) Coral and fish biocoenosis: ecological cells gradually maturing in complexity, species composition and energy turnover. Environ Biol Fish 68:391–405

    Google Scholar 

  8. Fishelson L, Delarea Y, Zverdling A (2004a) Taste bud form and distribution on lips and in the oropharyngeal cavity of cardinal fish species (Apogonidae, Teleostei), with remarks on their dentition. J Morphol 259:316–327

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Fishelson L, Ayalon G, Zverdling A, Holzman R (2004b) Comparative morphology of the eye (with particular attention to the retina) in various species of cardinal fish (Apogonidae, Teleostei). Anat Rec A 277:249–261

    Google Scholar 

  10. Fishelson L, Goren M, Gon O (1997) Black gut phenomenon in cardinal fishes (Apogonidae). Mar Ecol Prog Ser 161:295–298

    Google Scholar 

  11. Fraser TH (1972) Comparative osteology of the shallow water cardinal fish (Perciformes: Apogonidae) with references to the systematics and evolution of the family. Ichthyol Bull Rhodes Univ 34:1–105

    Google Scholar 

  12. Fricke HW (1970) Ein Mimetisches Kollektiv-Beobachtungen an Fischschwarmen die Seeigel nachahmen. Mar Biol 5(4):307–314

    Google Scholar 

  13. Fukasawa S, Suda T, Kubota S (1988) Identification of luminous bacteria from the light organ of the fish Acropoma japonicum. Agric Biol Chem 52:285–286

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gon O (1986) Apogonidae. In: Smith MM, Heemstera PC (eds) Smiths’ sea fishes. Macmillan, Johannesburg, pp 546–561

  15. Gon O, Randall JE (2003) A Review of Cardinalfishes (Perciformes: Apogonidae) of the Red Sea. Smithiana 1:1–48

    Google Scholar 

  16. Haneda Y (1950) Luminous organs of fishes, which emit light indirectly. Pac Sci 4:214–227

    Google Scholar 

  17. Haneda Y (1965) Observations on luminous apogonid fish, Siphamia versicolor, and others of the same genus. Sci Rep Yokosuka City Mus 11:1–12

    Google Scholar 

  18. Hastings JW, Morin JG (1991) Bioluminescence. In: Prosser CL (ed) Neural and integrative animal physiology, 4th edn. Wiley-Liss, New York, pp 131–170

  19. Herring PJ (1982) Aspects of bioluminescence of fishes. Oceanogr Mar Biol Annu Rev 20:415–470

    Google Scholar 

  20. Herring PJ, Morin JG (1978) Bioluminescence in fishes. In: Herring PJ (ed) Bioluminescence in action. Academic, New York, pp 273–329

  21. Iwai T (1958) A study of the luminous organ of the apogonid fish Siphamia versicolor (Smith and Radcliffe). J Wash Acad Sci 42:267–270

    Google Scholar 

  22. Iwai T (1960) Notes on the luminous organ of the apogonid fish, Siphamia majimai. Annu Mag Nat Hist 13 (2):545–551

    Google Scholar 

  23. Iwai T (1971) Structure of luminescent organs of apogonid fish, Siphamia versicolor. Jap J Ichthyol 18:125–1127

    Google Scholar 

  24. Kuwamura T (1985) Social and reproductive behavior of three mouth brooding cardinal fishes, Apogon doederleini, A. niger and A. notatus. Environ Biol Fish 13:17–24

    Google Scholar 

  25. Lachner EAS (1953) Family Apogonidae: cardinal fishes. In: Schultz LP, et al. (eds) Fishes of the Marshall and Mariana’s Islands. US Nat Mus Bull 202:412–498

    Google Scholar 

  26. Leis JM, Bullock S (1986) The luminous cardinal fish Siphamia (Pisces, Apogonidae): development of the larvae and luminous organ. In: Uyeno T, et al. (eds) Indo-Pacific fish biology. Proc 2nd Int Conf Indo-Pacific Fishes Tokyo, pp 703–714

  27. McFall-Ngai M, Dunlap PV (1982) Three new modes of luminescence in the leiognathid fish Gazza minuta: Discrete luminescence. Mar Biol 73:227–237

    Google Scholar 

  28. Okuda N (2001) The cost of reproduction to males and females of a paternal mouthbrooding cardinal fish Apogon notatus. J Fish Biol 58:776–787

    Google Scholar 

  29. Okuda N, Ohnishi N (2001 Nocturnal hatching timing of mouthbrooding male cardinal fish Apogon niger. Ichthyol Res 48:207–212

    Google Scholar 

  30. Randall JE, Allen GR, Steene RC (1990) Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford, Bathurst

  31. Vivien MA (1975) Place of Apogonid fish in the food webs of Malagasy coral reef. Micronesica 11:185–198

    Google Scholar 

  32. Yetison T, Shilo M (1979) Physiological characteristics underlying the distribution patterns of luminous bacteria in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Elat. Appl Environ Microbiol 38:577–584

    Google Scholar 

  33. Yoshiba S, Haneda Y (1967) Bacteriological study on the symbiotic luminous bacteria cultivated from the luminous organ of the apogonid fish, Siphamia versicolor, and the Australian pine cone fish, Cleidopus gloria-maris. Sci Rep Yokosuka City Mus 13:82–84

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors wish to express their gratitude to A. Hay and M. McGrouther of the Australian Museum, Sydney, for donating the specimens of S. cephalotes. Thanks are also due to Y. Delarea for preparation of the micrographs and N. Paz for editing the manuscript. The constructive remarks of the reviewers that contributed to the final form of the manuscript are appreciated. The experimental work in this study complied with the current laws in Israel.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to L. Fishelson.

Additional information

Communicated by O. Kinne, Oldendorf/Luhe

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Fishelson, L., Gon, O., Goren, M. et al. The oral cavity and bioluminescent organs of the cardinal fish species Siphamia permutata and S. cephalotes (Perciformes, Apogonidae). Marine Biology 147, 603–609 (2005).

Download citation


  • Oral Cavity
  • Light Organ
  • Luminous Bacterium
  • Tongue Surface
  • Perciform Fish