Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish, Cochleoceps orientalis Click to enlarge image
An Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish at a depth of 3m, Quarantine Beach, Sydney, New South Wales, October 2001. Image: Erik Schlögl
© Erik Schlögl

Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Number of Species
    The family contains an estimated 150 or more species in 43 genera. <em>Cochleoceps</em> is a small genus which currently contains 5 species <em>C. bassensis</em>, <em>C.bicolor</em>, <em>C.orientalis</em>, <em>C.spatula</em>, and <em>C.viridis</em>. The taxonomy (classification) of the clingfishes of Australia is currently being worked on by Dr J.B. Hutchins of the Western Australian Museum. Dr Hutchins described both the Eastern and Western Cleaner-Clingfishes in 1991.
  • Size Range
    The Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish grows to about 55 mm in length.


The Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish was named after its cleaning behaviour. The species is often observed cleaning other larger fishes. It swims over the surface of larger fishes such as Morwongs, Leatherjackets and the Eastern Blue Groper, picking food off these larger fishes.


The Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish has beautiful intense colours. The fish is greenish yellow to orange with red spots of variable size. Iridescent blue dashes adorn the back and sides.

The ventral fins of the Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish are united into a sucking disc, the posterior half of which has a fleshy fringe. On parts of the disc are found flattened dermal papillae which most likely have an adhesive function. The number and arrangement of these papillae vary between species.


The Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish lives in waters of 3 m to 40 m depth. It is usually found in kelp, Ecklonia radiata, beds on rocky reefs. Individuals can occasionally also be found in deeper waters on sponges and ascidians.

The species does not swim in open water where it would be easy game for potential predators. Instead it has a cryptic lifestyle, sucking onto kelp, sponges or ascidians and moving in short dashes.


The family Gobiesocidae occurs in all tropical and temperate marine waters of the world, and even in some freshwaters.

In Australia, the Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish is found in most shallow New South Wales marine waters. It is known from Seal Rocks, New South Wales to Mallacoota, Victoria.

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

Feeding and diet

The stomach contents of the Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish have not been analysed but judging by its behaviour, the contents should be similar to those of the Western Cleaner-Clingfish, Cochleoceps bicolor. The latter feeds mostly on small crustaceans which it presumably picks off the fish it 'cleans'. These are predominantly isopods. Other bits and pieces on the host's skin as well as mucous may also be consumed.

Other behaviours and adaptations

Eastern Cleaner-Clingfishes have no scales on the body, which is protected by a thick coating of mucous. They are often observed cleaning the parasites off the bodies of larger fishes such as Boxfishes, Porcupinefishes and Morwongs.

It is believed that some species of the family have the ability to rapidly change their body colouration further enhancing their concealment from potential predators.

Many clingfishes live in shallow waters with strong currents and wave action. Most clingfishes have a large ventral sucking disc formed partially by the fusion of the ventral fins. They almost always have flattened bodies and almost triangular heads. The body shape means that there is less surface area of the fish raised above the substrate. This low body profile combined with the ventral sucking disc results in the fish being less likely to get sucked away by strong currents and waves. It is reported that the suction generated by the sucking disc is so strong that a hooked clingfish can be lifted from the water along with the rock it is attached to.

Divers have observed, that if the large fish that is being cleaned moves far off the bottom, or moves away suddenly, the Eastern Cleaner-Clingfish makes no attempt to swim, but rather sinks straight to the bottom.


  1. Briggs, J.C. in Paxton, J.R. & W.N. Eschmeyer (Eds). 1994. Encyclopedia of Fishes. Sydney: New South Wales University Press; San Diego: Academic Press [1995]. Pp. 240.
  2. Brown, R.W. 1956. Composition of Scientific Words. R. W. Brown. Pp. 882.
  3. Hutchins, J.B. 1991. Description of three new species of gobiesocid fishes from southern Australia, with a key to the species of Cochleoceps. Records of the Western Australian Museum. 15(3): 655-672.
  4. Hutchins, J.B. In Gomon, M.F, J.C.M. Glover & R.H. Kuiter (Eds). 1994. The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. State Print, Adelaide. Pp. 992.
  5. Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. Pp. 180.
  6. Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia. Crawford House Press. Pp. 437.
  7. Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.