Commercial fisheries exist for the largest species, making them important food fish, although the American Food and Drug Administration warns pregnant or breastfeeding women against eating them due to mercury contamination. The smaller, exceptionally colourful species are enjoyed in the aquarium.
Both subfamilies have long dorsal and anal fins, the latter having 1-2 spines. The gill covers (operculum) have one spine which may be sharp or blunt; some species also have a cutaneous ridge atop the head. The tail fin may range in shape from truncate to forked. Most species are fairly low-key in colour, commonly shades of yellow, brown and gray. Notable exceptions include three small, vibrant Hoplolatilus species: the purple sand tilefish (H. purpureus), Starck's tilefish (H. starcki) and the redback sand tilefish (H. marcosi).
Tilefish larvae are notable for their generous complement of spines and serrations on the head and scales. This feature also explains the family name Malacanthidae, from the Greek words mala meaning "many" and akantha meaning "thorn".
Generally shallow-water fish, tilefish are usually found at depths of 50-200 metres found in both temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.. All species seek shelter in self-made burrows, caves at the bases of reefs or piles of rock, often in canyons or at the edges of steep slopes. Either gravelly or sandy substrate may be preferred, depending on the species.
Active fish, tilefish keep to themselves and generally stay at or near the bottom. They rely heavily on their keen eyesight to catch their prey. If approached, the fish will quickly dive into their constructed retreats, often head-first. The chameleon sand tilefish (Hoplolatilus chlupatyi) relies on its remarkable ability to rapidly change colour (with a wide range) to evade predators.
Many species form monogamous pairs, while some are solitary in nature (e.g., ocean whitefish, Caulolatilus princeps), and others colonial. Some species, such as the rare pastel tilefish (Hoplolatilus fronticinctus) of the Indo-Pacific, actively builds large rubble mounds above which they school and in which they live. These mounds serve as both refuge and as a micro-ecosystem for other reef species.
The reproductive habits of tilefish are not well studied. Spawning occurs throughout the spring and summer; all species are presumed not to guard their broods. Eggs are small (<2 mm) and made buoyant by oil. The larvae are pelagic and drift until the fish have reached the juvenile stage.
The family is further divided into two subfamilies: Branchiosteginae or Latilinae and Malacanthinae. Some authors regard these subfamilies as two evolutionarily distinct families (in which case the former subfamily is recorded as Branchiostegidae).
Changes in Size and Age at Maturity of the Northern Stock of Tilefish (Lopholatilus Chamaeleonticeps) after a Period of Overfishing
Apr 01, 2013; Abstract--The modern fishery for Tilefish (lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) developed during the 1970s, offshore of southern...