Small fish, generally reddish or very pale (changing between the two). Dorsal fins separate. First dorsal fin with 6-8 spines; 8-14 soft rays in the second. Spines in anal fin 2; soft rays 8-18. Scales usually ctenoid; several groups with cycloid scales (absent in Gymnapogon). Branchiostegal rays 7. Vertebrae 24 or 25 (10 + 14 or 15).
Males are mouthbrooders.
Most species nocturnal, feeding on zooplankton and small benthic invertebrates.
Maximum length 20 cm; most species below 10 cm.
Greek, a = without + Greek, pogon, barbed