Beware of titan ballista! (Thailand, February 2006)
Beware of titan ballista! (Thailand, February 2006)

Beware of the ballista!

  Indonesia: Bali - July 2008

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

Everyone is afraid of sharks. This is silly. It is rare that sharks eat humans (while the opposite is not the case). In fact, there is much more dangerous for divers: the mustache triggerfish or olive triggerfish, also called titan triggerfish.

A fast and sometimes aggressive fish

Those who have already felt its teeth, remember it...

The triggerfish is a fairly large fish (50 to 75 cm long), very fast. It is called trigger-fish in English, because of its caudal fin which is pointed like a trigger when it goes into action.

Titan triggerfish
A titan triggerfish surrounded by small reef fish.

It is one of the few fish that divers can fear attacks ... with, of course, the fierce clownfish !!!


Admire below the teeth of the beast... And the little cleaning shrimp, perched fearlessly on the tip of its "nose"!

The triggerfish leaves the small shrimp cleaners to rest on his jaws with sharp teeth. (Malaysia, Perhentian Islands, July 2006)
The triggerfish leaves the small shrimp cleaners to rest on his jaws with sharp teeth. (Malaysia, Perhentian Islands, July 2006)

This photo is dated my 2006 trip to the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia. A very wise ballista like that, the time of the passage to its "cleaning station", it is not so frequent...

Video: the ballista's meal

Below, shot at Bali in July 2008a short video of the beast, biting the reef to pieces:

Stay away from the "nest".

In fact, it is aggressive after the mating season and the laying of eggs, when it guards the nest. If you get too close, the titan triggerfish (usually a female) will attack to chase you out of its territory and will not hesitate to bite you with its big and ugly rabbit teeth to better convince you to leave. And he swims fast, the bugger...

It is better to go around the place, because the ballista defines its territory from the bottom to the surface.

Beware of titan ballista! (Thailand, February 2006)
Beware of titan ballista! (Thailand, February 2006)

The area that the ballista considers its territory is inverted cone or funnel shape (the tip starting at the nest). A common mistake made by divers is to take distance from the top, when it is enough to move away while remaining at the same depth, preferably facing the beast: you swim vigorously backwards, while calmly presenting the fins. This way, if it feels like biting something, it will be the plastic of the fins, rather than the fat of the calf or a finger.

Most of the other species of triggerfish that can be found in tropical waters, such as the friendly clown triggerfish, with its white polka dot livery, are not aggressive like the titan triggerfish.

Clown triggerfish. (Thailand, February 2006)
Clown triggerfish. (Thailand, February 2006)

It already happened to me several times, during my dives in Southeast Asia, to be charged by an angry triggerfish... It is not always easy to spot a nest, which appears as a small crater in the coral debris of the substrate. The first attack is surprising and a bit scary. But the following times, we know what to expect about the behavior of this fish, and we hasten to flee as soon as possible!


In Koh Tao, in ThailandIn this area, titan triggerfish have become particularly aggressive, because of the high concentration of divers, who disturb them every day. A few years ago, a triggerfish was even nicknamed "Tyson" by the local diving instructors. The fish had, it seems, bitten the ear of a client... (like boxer Mike Tyson during a fight in 1997, which became famous since, because of this "incident").


Update. But it is not only tropical waters... The triggerfish is rampant as far as France, in the Mediterranean! Attacks and bites attributed to a common triggerfish were reported by bathers in July 2020. Read → Holidaymakers bitten by a mysterious fish in the Mediterranean Sea: the marine animal has finally been identified


  Indonesia: Bali - July 2008

  Between Two Journeys

  Malaysia: Peninsula and Borneo - July 2006