Five of the six families are distributed in continental and insular inshore habitats of tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate seas. The exception is the louvar, a species that is pelagic throughout its rather wide range. Spadefishes, or bat-fishes, and surgeonfishes occur in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Scats are limited to the Indo-West Pacific, whereas the Moorish idol is found there and in the eastern Pacific. Rabbitfishes occur in the Indo-West Pacific but also have colonized the eastern Mediterranean, via the Suez Canal.

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