The reefs in Key West are alive with colorful yellow goatfish and yellowtail snapper. Because of their similar coloration, it’s not uncommon for snorkelers, anglers and scuba divers to confuse the two. Although both feature sleek silvery bodies with yellow strips, the yellow goatfish features barbels or whiskers under the chin, and the yellow snapper does not. In addition, the yellow snapper has a deeply forked tail. These two species also have different feeding habits. The yellowtail snapper feeds on worms, crabs, cephalopods, shrimp and gamete, while the yellow goatfish prey on buried invertebrates. The yellow goatfish use their barbels in a foraging technique. It creates a sediment cloud that actually feeds many other fish. When the ocean sand is disturbed, many other fish swoop in to feed on the algae present in the cloud.
When snorkeling in Key West, both of these species can be found hovering in schools over the reefs. Key West’s most pristine reefs and largest reefs are just several miles off shore. Sand Key is one of the most popular snorkeling destinations. The islet is marked by an iron lighthouse and offers over 10 miles of coral reefs and marine life. Here, you will find an abundance of both yellow goatfish and yellowtail snapper. Another popular snorkeling destination is on the south side of Key West Marine Park.