Jawfish are one of the more interesting species to come across on a dive, particularly in dive sites where there is a lot of sand but not much coral life to observe. Found in shallow reef areas of the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and the Gulf of Mexico, jawfish are a typically small, elongated fish that prefers to reside within the sandy substrate, constantly perfecting its burrow. The jawfish builds its habitat by tunneling into the soft sand, carving out a space just big enough for it to hide its entire body in. It secretes a substance that acts as a sort of setting agent on the burrow, ensuring it won’t cave in. Any coral or shell pieces found outside the burrow will be used to create the entrance, and they can often be seen spitting out sand and moving pieces around to get just the right arrangement.
It feeds by popping its head out above the burrow just enough to catch plankton floating by, but will retreat in an instant at the slightest feeling of threat. They are territorial of the area surrounding their burrows, but it is not unusual to see jawfish burrows only a foot away from each other. If you happen to see a jawfish with bubbles in its mouth, stop to check it out — jawfish are paternal mouthbrooders. Once the eggs have been fertilized after courtship, the male collects them into his mouth where they will stay protected until they hatch into fry. During this entire time, the male does not feed, but will simply function as an incubator for his offspring. Now that’s parenting!