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Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)
Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes

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Perciformes ("perch-like") is the most diverse order of ray-finned fish and include about forty percent of all species of bony fish, making it also the largest order of vertebrates. With over 10,000 known species, placed in about 1,500 genera and 160 families, Perciformes is the most prolific group of vertebrates in the ocean and also are dominant in many freshwater habitats. Also called Percomorphi or Acanthopteri, this taxonomic group includes the familiar perches, basses, sunfishes, bluefishes, remoras, jacks and pompanos, snappers, drums (croakers), angelfishes, cichlids, mackerels, tunas, gobies, groupers, and swordfishes.

Classification of Perciformes is unsettled, with both the order and many families possible not monophyletic. Many families remain to be defined in terms of shared derived characters, and taxonomic groups recognized as subfamilies by some authorities may be raised to the family level by other authorities.

Perciforms have important functions for their various ecosystems and for humans. Ecologically, they are integral to food chains and are consumed by other fishes or by birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and various invertebrates. For humans, they serve a multitude of functions. Some, such as tuna, mackerel, bass, snapper, and swordfish are of commercial importance as food; and tilapia are commonly raised in aquaculture for food. Some perciforms, such as gobies, angelfishes, and cichlids are well known as aquarium fish. Many, such as bass, sailfish, perch, sunfish, and tuna, offer recreation value as the target in sportsfishing. The diverse behaviors and forms of the many species in this order also add to the wonder of nature.

Overview and description

Perciformes belong to the Actinopterygii, a major taxonomic class (or subclass) of fish, known as the "ray-finned fishes," within which 96 percent of all fish species are placed. In turn, the Actinopterygii is one of two taxa within the Osteichthyes, known as the bony fish, with the other taxon being the class (or subclass) Sarcopterygii or "lobe-finned fishes."

The name Perciformes comes from the Greek perke, meaning "perch," and the Latin forma, meaning "shape." However, they are a very diverse order, including a wide range of shapes and sizes. They are the most variably sized order of vertebrates, ranging from the 7 millimeter (0.3 inch) long Schindleria brevipinguis to the 5 meter (16.5 foot) large Makaira species. They first appeared and diversified in the Late Cretaceous.

Perciform fish typically have dorsal and anal fins divided into anterior spiny and posterior soft-rayed portions, which may be partially or completely separated. There are usually pelvic fins with one spine and up to five soft rays, either positioned by the throat or under the belly. Scales are usually ctenoid in form, though sometimes they are cycloid or otherwise modified. Various other, more technical characters define the group.

Most members of Perciformes are marine shore fishes, and the perciforms dominate the vertebrate ocean life (Nelson 2006). Of the 10,000 perciforms, about 2,000—2,040 according to Nelson (2006)—live only in freshwater.


Classification is unsettled. As traditionally defined, the Perciformes are almost certainly paraphyletic. Other orders that should possibly be included as suborders are the Scorpaeniformes, Tetraodontiformes, and Pleuronectiformes. Johnson and Patterson (1993) presented support that the Perciformes are considered to be a monophyletic group only if these three orders are also included. Of the presently recognized suborders, several may be paraphyletic as well.

Nelson (2006) recognizes 10,033 known species placed into about 1,539 genera, 160 families, and 20 suborders. Of the 160 families, 23 have a single species, and 52 families have a single genus. Over three-quarters of the species are placed into three suborders: Percoidei, Labroidei, and Gobiodei. Percoidei is the largest suborder, with about 3,176 species, 549 genera, and 79 families. About 55 percent of all species are placed into just the eight largest perciform families: Gobiidae, Cichlidae, Serranidae, Labridae, Blenniidae, Pomacentridae, Apogonidae, and Scianidae (Nelson 2006).

Suborders and families

The following are grouped by suborder/superfamily, generally following Fishes of the World (Nelson 2006).

  • Suborder Percoidei
    • Superfamily Percoidea
      • Acropomatidae (temperate ocean-basses or lanternbellies)
      • Ambassidae (Asiatic glassfishes)
      • Apogonidae (cardinalfishes)
      • Arripidae (Australasian salmon)
      • Banjosidae (banjofishes)
      • Bathyclupeidae (bathyclupeids)
      • Bramidae (pomfrets)
      • Caesionidae (fusiliers)
      • Callanthiidae (groppos)
      • Carangidae (jacks, pompanos)
      • Caristiidae (manefishes)
      • Centracanthidae (picarel porgies)
      • Centrarchidae (freshwater sunfishes)
      • Centrogeniidae (false scorpionfiehs)
      • Centropomidae (snooks)
      • Chaetodontidae (butterflyfishes)
      • Coryphaenidae (dolphinfishes)
      • Dichistiidae (galjoen fishes)
      • Dinolestidae (long-finned pikes)
      • Dinopercidae (cavebasses)
      • Drepaneidae (sicklefishes)
      • Echeneidae (remoras or sharksuckers)
      • Emmelichthyidae (rovers)
      • Enoplosidae (oldwives)
      • Epigonidae (deepwater cardinalfishes)
      • Gerreidae (mojarras)
      • Glaucosomatidae (pearl perches)
      • Grammatidae (basslets)
      • Haemulidae (grunts)
      • Inermiidae (bonnetmouths)
      • Kuhliidae (flagtails)
      • Kyphosidae (sea chubs)
      • Lactariidae (false trevallies)
      • Lateolabracidae (Asian seabasses) (Nelson (2006) puts within Moronidae, but recognized as families by Echmeyer (1998) and Springer and Johnson (2004))
      • Latidae (lates)
      • Leiognathidae (ponyfishes, slimys, or slipmouths)
      • Leptobramidae (beachsalmon)
      • Lethrinidae (emperors or emperor breams)
      • Lobotidae (tripletails)
      • Lutjanidae (snappers, fusiliers)
      • Malacanthidae (tilefishes)
      • Menidae (moonfishes)
      • Monodactylidae (moonfishes or fingerfishes)
      • Moronidae (temperate basses)
      • Mullidae (goatfishes)
      • Nandidae (Asian leaffishes)
      • Nematistiidae (roosterfishes)
      • Nemipteridae (threadfin breams)
      • Notograptidae (bearded eelblennies)
      • Opistognathidae (jawfishes)
      • Oplegnathidae (knifejaws)
      • Ostracoberycidae (ostracoberycids)
      • Pempheridae (sweepers)
      • Pentacerotidae (armorheads)
      • Percichthyidae (temperate perches)
      • Percidae (perches and darters)
      • Perciliiidae (southern basses)
      • Plesiopidae (roundheads)
      • Polycentridae (Afro-American leaffishes)
      • Polynemidae (threadfins)
      • Polyprionidae (wreckfishes)
      • Pomacanthidae (angelfishes)
      • Pomatomidae (bluefishes)
      • Priacanthidae (bigeyes, catalufas)
      • Pseudochromidae (dottybacks)
      • Rachycentridae (cobias)
      • Sciaenidae (drums)
      • Scombropidae (gnomefish)
      • Serranidae (sea basses, groupers)
      • Sillaginidae (sillagos, whitings, smelt-whitings)
      • Sparidae (porgies)
      • Symphysanodontidae (slopefishes)
      • Terapontidae (grunters or tigerperches)
      • Toxotidae (archerfishes)
    • Superfamily Cirrhitoidea
      • Aplodactylidae (marblefishes)
      • Cheilodactylidae (morwongs)
      • Chironemidae (kelpfishes)
      • Cirrhitidae (hawkfishes)
      • Latridae (trumpeters)
    • Superfamily Cepoloidea
      • Cepolidae (bandfishes)
  • Suborder Elassomatoidei
    • Elassomatidae (pygmy sunfishes)
  • Suborder Labroidei
    • Cichlidae (cichlids)
    • Embiotocidae (surfperches)
    • Labridae (wrasses)
    • Odacidae (cales)
    • Pomacentridae (damselfishes)
    • Scaridae (parrotfishes)
  • Suborder Zoarcoidei
    • Anarhichadidae (wolffishes)
    • Bathymasteridae (ronquils)
    • Cryptacanthodidae (wrymouths)
    • Pholidae (gunnels)
    • Ptilichthyidae (quillfishes)
    • Scytalinidae (graveldivers)
    • Stichaeidae (pricklebacks)
    • Zaproridae (prowfishes)
    • Zoarcidae (eelpouts)
  • Suborder Notothenioidei (sometimes included in Percoidei)
    • Artedidraconidae (barbeled plunderfishes)
    • Bathydraconidae (Antarctic dragonfishes)
    • Bovichtidae (temperate icefishes)
    • Channichthyidae (crocodile icefishes)
    • Eleginopidae (Patagonian blennies)
    • Harpagiferidae (spiny plunderfishes)
    • Nototheniidae (cod icefishes)
    • Pseudaphritidae (catadromous icefishes)
  • Suborder Trachinoidei
    • Ammodytidae (sand lances)
    • Champsodontidae (gapers)
    • Cheimarrhichthyidae (New Zealand torrent fishes)
    • Creediidae (sandburrowers)
    • Leptoscopidae (southern sandfishes)
    • Percophidae (duckbills)
    • Pinguipedidae (sandperches)
    • Trachinidae (weeverfishes)
    • Trichodontidae (sandfishes)
    • Trichonotidae (sanddivers)
    • Uranoscopidae (stargazers)
  • Suborder Blennioidei
    • Blenniidae (combtooth blennies)
    • Chaenopsidae (tube blennies)
    • Clinidae (kelp blennies)
    • Dactyloscopidae (sand stargazers)
    • Labrisomidae (labrisomid blennies)
    • Tripterygiidae (triplefin blennies)
  • Suborder Pholidichthyoidei
    • Pholidichthyidae (convict blenny)
  • Suborder Icosteoidei (Malacichthyes)
    • Icosteidae (ragfishes)
  • Suborder Gobiesocoidei
    • Gobiesocidae (clingfishes)
  • Suborder Callionymoidei
    • Callionymidae (dragonets)
    • Draconettidae (slope dragonets)
  • Suborder Gobioidei
    • Eleotridae (sleepers)
    • Gobiidae (gobies)
    • Kraemeriidae (sandfishes or sand gobies)
    • Microdesmidae (wormfishes)
    • Odontobutidae (freshwter sleepers)
    • Ptereleotridae (dartfishes)
    • Rhyacichthyidae (loach gobies)
    • Schindleriidae (infant fishes)
    • Xenisthmidae (xenisthmids)
  • Suborder Kurtoidei
    • Kurtidae (nurseryfishes)
  • Suborder Acanthuroidei
    • Acanthuridae (surgeonfishes)
    • Ephippidae (spadefishes)
    • Luvaridae (louvar)
    • Scatophagidae (scats)
    • Siganidae (rabbitfishes)
    • Zanclidae (moorish idol)
  • Suborder Scombrolabracoidei
    • Scombrolabracidae (longfin escolars)
  • Suborder Scombroidei
  • Suborder Stromateoidei
    • Amarsipidae (amarsipas)
    • Ariommatidae (ariommatids)
    • Centrolophidae (medusafishes)
    • Nomeidae (driftfishes)
    • Tetragonuridae (squaretails)
    • Stromateidae (butterfishes)
  • Suborder Anabantoidei
    • Anabantidae (climbing gouramies)
    • Helostomatidae (kissing gourami)
    • Osphronemidae (giant gouramies)
    • Belontiidae (combtail gouramies) is recognized by some as a family, but Nelson (2006) recognizes it as a subfamily (Belontiinae) of Osphronemidae
  • Suborder Channoidei
    • Channidae (snakeheads)
  • Suborder Caproidei
    • Caproidae (boarfishes)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Agbayani, E.. 2005. Perciformes. FishBase. (R. Froese and D. Pauly, editors). Retrieved December 5, 2008.
  • Eschmeyer, W. N. (ed.). 1998. Catalog of Fishes. Special Publication 1. San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences. Volume 1:1-958. Volume 2:959-1820. Volume 3:1921-2905. ISBN 0940228475. Retrieved December 5, 2008.
  • Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). 2004. Perciformes. ITIS Taxonomic Serial No.: 167640. Retrieved December 5, 2008.
  • Johnson, G.D. 1993. Percomorph phylogeny: Progress and problems. Bull. Mar. Sci. 52(1): 3-28.
  • Johnson, G.D., and C. Patterson. 1993. Percomorph phylogeny: A survey of acanthomorphs and a new proposal. Bull. Mar. Sci. 52(1): 554-626.
  • Nelson, J. S. 2006. Fishes of the World, 4th edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471250317.
  • Springer, V. G., and G. D. Johnson. 2004. Study of the dorsal gill-arch musculature of teleostome fishes, with special reference to the Actinopterygii. Bull. Bio. Soc. Wash. 11: 260.


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