Animal Species:Spiny Puller, Acanthochromis polyacanthus (Bleeker, 1855)

The Spiny Puller can be separated from other Indo-Pacific Damselfishes by its high number of dorsal fin spines (17 vs. 8-15, commonly 13-14).  Juveniles nip mucus off the sides of their parents in a behaviour known as 'glancing'.

Spiny Puller, Acanthochromis polyacanthus

Spiny Puller, Acanthochromis polyacanthus
Photographer: Erik Schlögl © Erik Schlögl

Standard Common Name

Spiny Puller

Alternative Name/s

It has also been called the Spiny Chromis, Spiny-tail Puller and Spotty-tail.


The Spiny Puller can be separated from other Indo-Pacific Damselfishes by its high number of dorsal fin spines (17 vs. 8-15, commonly 13-14).

Its colouration is variable. On the southern Great Barrier Reef it is bluish-grey. Further north it is brown anteriorly and white posteriorly. Some Coral Sea individuals are entirely white.

Size range

Spiny Pullers grow to about 14 cm in length.


The species occurs in the tropical Western Pacific region. In Australia it is known from the north-western coast of Western Australia and the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Click on the map for detailed information.  Source: Atlas of Living Australia.

Acanthochromis polyacanthus

Distribution by collection data

Ozcam map of Spiny Puller specimens in the Australian Museum.

What does this mean?


The Spiny Puller occurs in coral reef and inshore waters.

Feeding and Diet

Adults feed on plankton.

Juvenile Spiny Pullers show a strange behaviour known as 'glancing', during which small amounts of mucus may be ingested from the sides of their parents.  Kavanagh (1998) states that "I interpret the results of this study as evidence tht the current function of glancing in Acanthochromis is not merely to provide additional nutrition.  Approximately six bites per day of mucus seems little caloric incentive to maintain this behavior when other foods seem easily available.  The question remains, then, what is the function of the behavioral interaction?.  Because ingestion does not occur during at least some of the glances, transfer of some substance from parent to juvenile occurs.  Transfer of small quantities of vital nutrients or hormones during glancing could encourage faster growth or development - possibly an advantage on the reef.  This seems a good avenue for further investigation."

Life cycle

The species is unusual because it is one of only three pomacentrid species that do not have planktonic larvae.  The larvae of all three species stay with the parents after hatching. The other two species are the Azure Damsel, Altrichthys azurelineatus and Altrichthys curatus (no common name), a species described in 1999 by Dr Gerald R. Allen (see References).



What does this mean?


  • Allen, G.R. 1991. Damselfishes of the World. Mergus. Pp. 271.
  • Allen, G.R. 1999. Altrichthys, a new genus of Damselfish (Pomacentridae) from Philippine Seas with Description of a new species. Revue fr. Aquariol. 26(1999): 23-28.
  • Hoese, D.F., Bray, D.J., Paxton, J.R. & G.R. Allen. 2006. Fishes. in Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. (eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia. parts 1-3, pages 1-2178.
  • Kavanagh, K. 1998. Notes on the frequency and function of glancing behaviour in juvenile Acanthochromis (Pomacentridae). Copeia. 2: 493-496.
  • Leis, J.M. & B.M. Carson-Ewart. (editors). 2000. The larvae of Indo-Pacific coastal fishes. An identification guide to marine fish larvae. Brill, Leiden. Pp. 870.
  • Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & R.C. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford House Press. Pp. 557.

Last Updated:

Tags fishes, ichthyology, Spiny Puller, Acanthochromis polyacanthus, Pomacentridae, blue, grey, white, 'normal fish', 10 cm - 30 cm, countershaded, mottled, coral reef, marine, adult,


Mark McGrouther - 4.05 PM, 21 May 2010

You are quite correct.  In the introduction to the 1998 paper, Kavanagh wrote about glancing that "This behaviour has been recorded most often in members of the family Cichlidae, which contains 24 of the 28 species known to exhibit parental/juvenile physical contact of any kind. Of the four noncichlid species, two are freshwater catfishes (Bagridae) that have elongate filliform processes on the ventral surface of the male which secrete a milky proteinaceous fluid on which the young feed [references given].  Another of these species is an Amazonian osteoglossid (Arapaima gigas) whose parent-juvenile contact behaviour is apparently under dispute. The fourth noncichlid species, and the only marine species is Acanthochromis polyacanthus."  Of course Allen's 1999 paper on two additional marine species in the genus Altrichthys has been published since.

kokosnood - 3.05 PM, 21 May 2010
Wow, thanks for the update. I find the "glancing" behavior fascinating. There seem to be many similarities between these species of damselfish and certain freshwater cichlids.
Mark McGrouther - 12.05 PM, 21 May 2010

Hi kokosnood. Thank you for your excellent question.  I have added the relevant information to the Life Cycle paragraph above.  I've also provided some more details from Dr Kavanagh's paper on the curious 'glancing' behaviour of the juveniles.  I hope you find it interesting.


kokosnood - 3.05 AM, 21 May 2010
Above it says: "The species is unusual because it is one of only three Damselfishes in which the larvae are not planktonic but instead stay with the parents after hatching." What are the other two species of damselfish which have non-planktonic larvae?

Report misuse