Tomato Hind

Tomato Hind. Photo © Doug Perrine
Tomato Hind. Photo © Doug Perrine

Cephalopholis sonnerati

This stout, almond-shaped reef fish has a concave profile that slopes past large eyes to a pointed snout. It is usually an orange-brown to red-orange color, with profuse darker orange or red spots all over its head, body, and rounded fins. They prefer living around reefs or rocky coastal areas where they can hunt crustaceans and grow to over 22 inches long in some cases.

Order: Perciformes
Family: Serranidae
Genus: Cephalopholis
Species: sonnerati

Common Names

English language common names are tomato hind, orange-spotted hind, orange-spotted rock-cod, red coral rod, red rockcod, tomato hind, tomato rock cod, tomato rock-cod, tomato rockcod, tomato sea bass, and tomato seabass. Other common names include abo-abo (Visayan), alatan (Tagalog), aloro (Malagasy), alovo (Malagasy), azahata (Japanese), bantol (Visayan), Baraka (Bikol), bato-bato (Ilokano), batol (Visayan), bontoo (Telugu), caalo (Somali), chem.-kalava (Malayam), chencheerachammam (Malayam), cherna piña (Spanish), choppuchamman (Malayam), dela bulewa (Fijiian), garoupa (Portuguese), garoupa tomate (Portuguese), gobra (Marathi), graniec czerwony (Polish), guitongue (Portuguese), hekaru (Marathi), iner (Visayan), inid (Bikol), jahong (Visayan), kakab (Ilokano), kaltang (Tagalog), kaupatuo (Niuean), kerapu antu (Malay), kerapu merah (Malay), kigting (Bikol), kugtong (Visayan), kugtung (Bikol), kulapo (Tagalog), kurapo (Ilokano), labungan (Visayan), lapu (surigaonon), lapu-lapu (Tagalog), lapu-lapung lupot (Tagalog), lilug (Visayan), londu (Portuguese), lubo (Tagalog), m’voue (Komoro), maman rouge (French), mamonong (Visayan), maskad (Ilokano), mata’ele (Samoan), matkad (Ilokano), msye angar (French), mwananuya (Misima-Paneati), mérou tomate (French), ogaw (Visayan), prude rouge (French), pugapo (Visayan), pugayo (Visayan), ran thambuva (Sinhalese), rouge ananas (French), ryfana (Mahl), salingukod (Visayan), segepu kaleva (Tamil), sibog (Visayan), sigapo (Tagalog), siggapu-cullawah (Tamil), sonna kalawa (Malayam), subla (Visayan), tabadlo (Visayan), tamatie-klipkabeljou (Afrikaans), tangk-an (Visayan), ting-ad (Visayan), tsaramaso (Malagasy), uhami (Other), velo (Samoan), vieille anansas (French), and xissumba (Portuguese).

Importance to Humans

The widespread and common species is of some commercial importance throughout the majority of its range. It is often caught on hook and line as well as in traps. The tomato hind is marketed fresh and in Hong Kong it is traded in the live fish markets.


This species is fairly common throughout its range, appearing in local markets and the live fish trade. At this time there is no evidence of population decline therefore this species is considered “Least Concern” by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). However, if current levels of exploitation continue unmanaged, this fish may be of concern in the near future. The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the conservation status of species.

> Check the status of the tomato hind at the IUCN website.

Geographical Distribution

World distribution map for the tomato hind
World distribution map for the tomato hind

In the Indo-Pacific region, the tomato hind is found along the east coast of Africa (from Djibouti, Socotra to Durban) to the Line Islands, north to southern Japan south to southern Queensland (Australia). It is absent from the Chagos Archipelago and not reported from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.


The tomato hind resides in deep lagoon reefs and on steep outer reef slopes at depths from 33-490 feet (10-150 m). It also lives along coastal areas over rocky bottoms. The juveniles are found near corals and sponges while the adults are seen at moderate depths associated with coral formations with large crevices occupied by cleaner shrimp.


Tomato hind from Indonesian waters. Photo © George Burgess
Tomato hind from Indonesian waters. Photo © George Burgess

Distinctive Features
The tomato hind has a deep body that measures greater than or nearly equal to the head length. The dorsal profile of the head is straight to concave and the nape is concave. The maxilla extends past the eye. The pelvic fins are longer than the pectoral fins with the pelvic fins extending to or beyond the anus. The caudal fin is rounded

The tomato hind differs in coloration depending on geographic location. In the Indian Ocean, the body is orange-red to reddish-brown typically with scatter small pale blotches. The head is purplish to reddish-brown with numerous orange-red spots. The membrane between the lower two opercular spines are usually darker than the rest of the head of this fish. The fins are darker than the body, especially the caudal fin and the posterior portion of the dorsal and anal fins. The pelvic fins are black distally. In the Pacific Ocean, the body coloration is reddish to yellowish-brown with small brownish-red spots on the head, body and fins.

Tomato hind diagnostic features. Photo © George Burgess
Tomato hind diagnostic features. Photo © George Burgess

The jaws of the tomato hind include small canines located at the front and teeth are also present on the palatines.

Size, Age, and Growth
The maximum reported length of the tomato hind is 22.4 inches (57.0 cm) total length (TL) with a length of 11.8 inches (30.0 cm) more commonly observed. Males mature at approximately 13.4 inches (34 cm) standard length (SL) and females mature at 11.0 inches (28 cm) SL.

Food Habits
The diet of the tomato hind consists of small fishes and crustaceans including shrimps, crabs, and stomatopods. One study found that 99% of the prey items taken by tomato hinds were crustaceans.

Tomato hind with a cleaner shrimp. Photo © Doug Perrine
Tomato hind with a cleaner shrimp. Photo © Doug Perrine

This species appears to spawn during the warmer summer months. There is some evidence that the tomato hind forms spawning aggregations. Each egg measures approximately 815-816 µm in diameter with one oil globule.

Potential predators of the tomato hind include marine mammals and larger fishes including sharks.


The tomato hind was originally described as Serranus sonnerati Valenciennes 1828. This name was later changed to the currently valid name of Cepholopholis sonnerati (Valenciennes 1828). Synonyms referring to this species in past scientific literature include Serranus zananella Valenciennes 1828, Epinephelus janthinopterus Bleeker 1873, Epinephelus unicolor Bleeker 1875, and Cephalopholis purpureus Fourmanoir 1966. The family Serranidae includes 62 genera with a total of 449 species. Serranidae is derived from the Latin “serranus” meaning fish, fish saw. The genus Cephalopholis is made up of 22 species from throughout the world.

Prepared by: Cathleen Bester