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Juveniles are encountered under ledges, or in holes of outer lagoon patch reefs or semi-protected areas of exposed channels and outer reef flats. Subadults move to reef front holes and surge channels. Large adults inhabit ledges and caves in areas of rich coral growth on clear lagoon, channel, or seaward reefs (Ref. 6113). Benthopelagic (Ref. 58302). Feed on sponges and other encrusting organisms (Ref. 6113); also on tunicates. Form pairs. Young and adults may clean much larger fishes such as sunfish (Ref. 48636). Frequently exported through the aquarium trade. Juveniles are distinguished by a white dorsal-fin margin (Ref. 48391).
This species is widespread throughout the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean. It ranges from coastal East Africa and the Red Sea in the west to the Tuamotu Islands (French Polynesia), Line Islands (Kiribati and USA). It is a vagrant in the Hawaiian Islands (USA). Populations have been recorded as far north as southern Japan (including the Ogasawara Islands [=Bonin Islands] and Izu Islands) to the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), New Caledonia (France) and the Austral Islands (French Polynesia) in the south (Steene 1978, Pyle 2001, G.R. Allen pers. comm. 2006). It has been recorded at depths between depths of 1-100 m (Pyle 2001).
This species inhabits a wide variety of habitats with individuals usually reported from coastal and outer reefs, deep lagoons, often in areas of rich coral growth (Steene 1978, Pyle 2001, G.R. Allen pers. comm. 2006). It is commonly seen near ledges and caves. The juveniles usually occur under ledges or in holes on shallow reefs. It feeds mainly on sponges and tunicates (Pyle 2001, G.R. Allen pers. comm. 2006).
There appear to be no major threats to this species. Collection for the aquarium trade is localized and does not seem to affect the global population.
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