Beneath Our Bridges

Our largest aquarium, this exhibit depicts the myriad life that thrives around large man-made structures installed around the Chesapeake Bay. Hard surfaces exposed to natural waters often team with life, serving as a stable place to attach and steady against shifting tides and currents. Sessile (attached) life attracts larger free-swimming animals like game fish, marine mammals and sea turtles - there to feed on the rich life that abounds.

Our bridges span the deep, open waters of the bay. Oceangoing ships follow the channels created in a time before the Susquehanna River succumbed to rising seas. Massive jetties and bulkheads attempt to stave off rising seas or prevent shoreline erosion. Despite human influences, the bay continues to demonstrate amazing resilience.
Only a select few of these species are on exhibit at any time, though all are representative of Beneath Our Bridges habitats.

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American conger eel

Scientific name: 
Conger oceanicus

Location: Western Atlantic, from Cape Cod, MA to Northeastern FL and Northern Gulf of Mexico. Reported Eastern Atlantic in St. Helena and Northwest Atlantic Canada.

Habitat: Deep water near the bottom, as deep as 477 m but typically 75-150 m; shallow inshore waters; often found close to shore near docks

Key Characteristics: Most eels may have similar form but the size of the mouth and lengths of the fins make the Conger eel different. Firstly, the mouth gape continues back only as far as the middle or rear edge of the eye. Secondly, the body of the Conger eel is considered moderately thick and strong. Finally, the tail tip is soft and rounded. The Conger is scaleless.

Coloration: Usually dark gray-green with small speckles of rusty-red color; additional coloration – gray, brown, black, steel-blue, olive-green or reddish-brown; typically dingy white below.

Feeding Habits: Main diet made up of fishes, also shrimps, small shellfish, octopus and squid. They typically wait to ambush their prey and are bottom-feeders. They use their very wide mouths and extremely sharp teeth to hunt and feed.

Reproduction: External fertilization- eggs are simply deposited in the open sea. The female breeds once during its life span then dies. It is recorded that American conger become sexually mature in the summer off the coast of southern New England while European conger in captivity can do so every month except October and November. Spawning occurs out from the coast in more open waters. *

Maximum Length (in inches or feet): 7.5 ft max length, 89 lbs weight

Predators: Finfish like Bluefish

Importance to Humans: These eels are an enticing to hunt. Some conger eels are consumed as part of Asian cuisine.

Conservation Status: Secure, not at risk


Silver Perch-T

American silver perch

Scientific name: 
Bairdiella chrysoura

Distribution: Western Atlantic, NY to Southern FL, Eastern and Northern Gulf of Mexico to Northern Mexico.

Habitat: Coastal waters of muddy and sandy bottoms. Will migrate to estuaries during summer months to feed or as a nursery; may enter freshwater. Found in marine, freshwater, brackish. Demersal.

Key characteristics for distinction: The American silver perch as 10-11 dorsal spines, 19-23 dorsal soft rays, 2 anal spines and 8-10 anal soft rays. Distinguished from white perch by the coloration of the fins and the slightly pointed tail (not forked). Also has a faint stripe running along the body to the tail

Coloration: Silver, green or blue above, bright silver to yellow on belly. Lower fins are mostly yellow to dusky in color.

Feeding habits/specializations: Mostly crustaceans, worms and at times fishes.

Reproduction: Spawns along the shallows; larvae and juveniles migrate into freshwaters upstream to grow then move along back into higher salinity waters near grass beds.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): maximum 9 in

 striped bass, other fish

Importance to humans: Mostly used as fishing bait/commercial use

Conservation status: secure, not at risk

Fun fact: Able to make a loud drumming/croaking sound by vibrating the swim bladder using special muscles.



Atlantic croaker

Scientific name: 
Micropogonias undulates

Distribution: Found in western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Florida and throughout Gulf of Mexico

Habitat: marine, brackish, demersal, max depth 100m. Adults found on mud, sand and shell bottoms. Juveniles found on shallow shoals.

Key characteristics for distinction: Chin with 3-5 pairs of barbells (small). Dorsal fin notched deeply with 10 spines in anterior and 1 spine and 26-30 soft rays in posterior portion. The upper dorsal side typically has many spots brassy in color that take on the appearance of wavy bars; this becomes less distinct in larger fish

Coloration: silvery-pink in color, silvery or brassy white belly, brown spots that form faint irregular stripes on back and dorsal fin *

Feeding habits/specializations: Bottom feeders; mollusks, small crustaceans, worms and at times small fish.

Reproduction: spawning can occur at age 2-3 in continental shelf waters from Summer to Winter. Migrate offshore to spawn. Late summer young travel to lower salinity and freshwater then travel back to high salinity with adults.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): maximum 1.8 ft, commonly 1.0 ft

Predators: striped bass, flounder, spotted seatrout, weakfish, bluefish

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: secure (croaker mature quickly helping to maintain a stable population)

Fun fact: Also called ‘hardheads’ these fish are able to make a loud drumming/croaking sound by vibrating the swim bladder using special muscles.



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Atlantic mackerel

Scientific name: 
Scomber scombrus

Distribution: North Atlantic including Mediterranean

Habitat: marine, brackish, pelagic-neritic; max depth 1000m, usually 0-200m, cold and temperate shelf areas. Overwinter in deep waters. Schooling fish.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines 8-14, dorsal soft rays 113, anal spines 1, anal soft rays 12-13. No swim bladder. Scales are very small; this makes the fish skin feel velvety smooth.

Coloration: Upper body dark steely to greenish blue; head coloration is almost blue-black. There are approximately 23-33 dark transverse bands that run down the body of the fish in an irregular wavy pattern to the mid-level of the body. Here there is a thin dark line or streak running along the length of the body from the pectoral fin to the tail. The pectoral fins can appear dark at the base then fading out. The dorsal and caudal fins are mostly gray. The underside of the fish is silvery white.

Feeding habits/specializations: zooplankton and small fish and prawns

Reproduction: Mature by age of three years. External reproduction. Nonguarders. Eggs/larvae are pelagic. Batch spawner (deposits eggs throughout a season instead of within one short period). No particular breeding grounds. Spawn in spring and early summer. “Females of medium size may produce as many as 400,000 to 500,000 eggs.” *

Maximum length (in inches or feet): males max 2 ft, females max 1 ft

Predators: sharks, marine mammals, other fish, birds. *Preyed upon by porbeagles, dogfish, Atlantic cod, Bluefin tuna, swordfish, porpoises and harbor seals (*

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Common name:  Secure. This fish is a fast-growing species; therefore, it can handle a high amount of fishing pressure without straining the overall population. The fishing methods used to catch mackerel reduce the risk of habitat destruction and catching unwanted fish.

Fun fact: Also called ‘Boston Mackerel’



Atlantic needlefish

Scientific name: 
Strongylura marina

Distribution: western Atlantic: Maine to northern Gulf of Mexico to Brazil. Absent from Bahamas to Antilles

Habitat: marine, freshwater, brackish, reef-associated; inhabits coastal areas and mangrove-lined lagoons. Enters freshwater. Found in shallow waters near shoreline. Found near docks, marshes, beaches and grassy beds. Can adapt to a wide range of salinities.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal soft ray 14-17, anal soft rays 16-20, black pigment behind eye that doesn’t extend below level of middle of eye. Long narrow body. Lower jaw slightly longer than upper jaw. One dorsal fin

Coloration: Greenish back, silvery sides with thin bluish silver stripe along each side

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mainly on small fish like killifish and silversides as well as shrimp. Patiently stalks prey then catches it sideways in scissor-like jaw. Jaw filled with many tiny teeth.

Reproduction: Oviparous; eggs may be found attached to objects in the water by tendrils on the egg’s surface. Only right gonad is developed. Spawns May-June. Young needlefish do not have elongated jaws like adults.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3.6 ft, common 2 ft

Predators: Larger fish, fish-eating birds, bottlenose dolphins

Importance to humans: Not high commercial importance but fishery exists for it. Sometimes taken as bycatch. Sport fishermen use it as bait.

Conservation status: Secure status. Not threatened.

Fun fact: Attracted to lights which is why they often gather near docks, piers and bridges.



Atlantic spadefish

Scientific name: 
Chaetodipterus faber

Distribution: Western Atlantic: Massachusetts and northern Gulf of Mexico to Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Habitat: marine, brackish, reef-associated, oceanodromous; depth range 3-35m. Shallow coastal waters from mangroves and sandy beaches to wrecks and harbors.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines 9, dorsal rays 21-24, anal spines 3, anal soft rays 17-18. Deep-bodied, compressed, disk shaped with very blunt snout. Irregular blackish vertical bands that fade as fish ages. Mouth is small. No teeth on roof of mouth.

Coloration: Silver in color with irregular black vertical bands that will fade as the fish ages.

Feeding habits/specializations: Benthic invertebrates like crustaceans, mollusks, annelids, cnidarians and plankton.

Reproduction: Spawning season runs from May to September on inner shelf off the US coast. Single female may release up to one million eggs each season. Eggs are buoyant and small. Bands develop after time. Juveniles reside in very shallow water and will often swim at an angle which disguises them as fallen dead leaves or mangrove pods.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 ft, common 1.6 ft

Predators: Sharks like the smalltail shark and large fishes like the tripletail.

Importance to humans: fishing/commerical

Conservation status: Harvest levels unknown, no management plan in place to monitor harvesting. Not listed as endangered.

Fun fact: Common names – angelfish, threetailed porgy, moonfish.


Atlantic Stingray

Atlantic stingray

Scientific name: 
Dasyatis sabina

Distribution: Chesapeake Bay to southern FL and Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat: marine, freshwater, brackish, demersal. Depth max 25m, usually 2-6m. Coastal waters including estuaries and lagoons over sandy or silty bottoms. Migrate seasonally to warmer water.

Key characteristics for distinction: Prominent triangular elongated snout, broadly rounded other corners of disc. One of the smallest stingray species. Tale is long and whip-like with serrated spine measuring a quarter of the width of the disk. Spine is replaced annually between June and October.

Coloration: Upper surface brown or yellow brown, pale towards margins of disc. Lower surface white.

Feeding habits/specializations: feeds on tube anemones, polychaete worms, small crustaceans, clams and serpent starts. Electroreceptive fish – they have rows of sensory cells called Ampullae of Lorenzini that are able to detect weak electric fields generated by prey. They use this sense to locate prey buried in the sand.

Reproduction: ovoviviparous. Males teeth change from rounded with flat blunt surface to long sharp cusps that curve in toward corners of mouth; this enables them to grip onto the females during mating. Annual mating season from September or October to April though ovulation doesn’t occur until late March or early April.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2 ft

Predators: many shark species (white shark, tiger shark, bull shark to name a few). Alligators may eat freshwater species.

Importance to humans: no commercial importance; stingray wounds can be painful but are rarely life threatening. Currently, there is research dedicated to biomedical and neurobiological uses of the venomous component of the tail spine.

Conservation status: Least concern. Caught as bycatch but most released alive and bycatch mortality seems low but some freshwater populations are threatened by declining water quality.

Fun fact: These are electroreceptive fish with rows of sensory cells that can detect weak electric fields generated by prey buried in the sand.


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Banded rudderfish

Scientific name: 
Seriola zonata

Habitat: marine, benthopelagic. Adults confined to coastal waters of continental shelf.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dark band from the eye to the first dorsal fin and six prominent bars on body.

Coloration: Silver-blue to blue-brown in color; six dark vertical bands that go along the length of the body. Fins are dark/black in color. Tail-lobe is white tipped.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feed on other fishes and shrimps.

Reproduction: nonguarders, external fertilization, open water/substratum egg scatterers; offshore spawning

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2.5 ft

Predators: other larger fishes

Importance to humans: minor commercial/fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Sometimes follows sharks are other large fish causing it to be confused with pilot fish.


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Bermuda chub

Scientific name: 
Kyphosus sectatrix

Habitat: marine; reef-associated. Depth range 1-30m usually 1-10m. shallow waters over seagrass beds, sand or rocky bottoms and around coral reefs. Young can be found floating among sargassum weeds.

Key characteristics for distinction: dorsal spines 11, dorsal soft rays 11-12, anal spines 3, anal soft rays 11. Rounded in outline. Jaw with a regular row of close-set, strong, incisor-like round-tipped teeth shaped like a hockey stick with the base set horizontally.

Coloration: gray overall, with faint yellow lines on side and yellow line from corner of mouth to preopercle (gill cover). Young may display pale spots on head, body and fins.

Feeding habits/specializations: feeds on plants, mainly benthic algae, as well as small mollusks and crabs. May also feed on spinner dolphin feces and vomits (located at Fernando de Noronha Archipelago)

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2.5 ft

Predators: larger fishes

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Common name is “rudderfish”; these types of fish followed vessels and scavenge on refuse.


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Bighead searobin

Scientific name: 
Prionotus tribulus

Habitat: marine, demersal. Very common in bays. Young occur in estuaries. Depths up to 200m

Key characteristics for distinction: Get their name for large pectoral fins which open and close like a bird’s wings in flight. Unusually solid skull. Six spiny “legs”, three on each side, which are actually flexible spines that used to be part of the pectoral fin. These are used to stir up food. Sharp spines on gill plates and dorsal fins that inject a mild poison causing slight pain for 2-3 days.

Coloration: light to dark brown marble color with some markings along fins. Pectoral fins are much darker in color.

Feeding habits/specializations: bottom-feeding scorpaeniform fishes. Use spiny “legs” to stir up food from the bottom.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 1.2 ft

Importance to humans: consumed; fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: When caught, they make a croaking noise similar to a frog, thus the common name ‘gurnard’.



Black drum

Scientific name: 
Pogonias cromis 

Habitat: marine, brackish, demersal, oceanodromous. Max depth unknown. Usually over sand or sandy mud bottoms in coastal waters especially in areas with large river runoffs. Juveniles enter estuaries.

Key characteristics for distinction: dorsal spines 11, dorsal soft rays 19-22, anal spines 2, anal soft rays 5-7. Chin with 10-13 pairs of small barbels along lower jaw. Rounded teeth and powerful jaws capable of crushing oysters and other shellfish.

Coloration: silver grey to very dark, young with 4-5 black bars on sides disappearing with growth. Fins usually dark. Greyish belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: crustaceans, mollusks, fishes. Chin barbels help locate food.

Reproduction: spawns april-june; females can lay eggs every three days during season; adults migrate further in to feed after spawning; eggs hatch within 24 hours.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 5.6 ft

Predators: sharks; juveniles preyed upon by seatrouts, jacks and other large fish.

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Able to produce tones between 100 Hz and 500 Hz when performing mating calls.



Black sea bass

Scientific name: 
Centropristis striata

Habitat: marine, reef-associated, oceaodromous. Found around rock jetties and on rocky bottoms in shallow water

Key characteristics for distinction: body stout and robust with large head, pointy snout and large mouth. Eyes set high and one sharp flat spine located near the caudal end of the operculum (hard bony flap protecting gills). Dorsal fin is continuous with males having higher fins than females. No scales cover the head.

Coloration: Smoky gray, dusky brown or blue-black fading to slightly paler color underside. The sides sometimes appear mottled or with dark and light vertical crossbars. Breeding males may show vivid hues of fluorescent blue and green around the eyes and nape with females are lighter in color and brown/blue.

Feeding habits/specializations: bottom feeders; crabs, shrimps, small fishes, tunicates, juvenile lobsters and barnacles.

Reproduction: protogynous hermaphrodites: typically function as females then under sexual succession and become functional males. Spawns buoyant pelagic eggs during spring through fall months.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2.2 ft

Predators: striped bass, bluefish, weakfisk, bignose shark and dusky shark.

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial; venomous fish

Conservation status: not evaluated (IUCN); National Marine Fisheries Service – currently overexploited but spawning stock indicates population is stable since 1980s.


Blue Crab

Blue crab

Scientific name: 
Callinectes sapidus 

Growth stages of a blue crab
Blue Crab Juvenile
Blue Crab Growth

Distribution: Native to western edge of Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to Agentina and around entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Estuaries along east coasts of North and South America. Also been seen in coastal waters of Holland and Denmark. It has been introduced (via transfer in ballast water on ships) to Japanese and European waters.

Habitat: Bottom-dwellers; marine, estuary, coastal, brackish

Key characteristics for distinction: Five pairs of legs, the first pair is modified as pinchers (claws) while the last four pairs are walking legs (the last pair paddle-shaped to aide in swimming). The carapace is drawn out on each side into a large spine. Fully grown, the spine may be as large as 8 inches wide. To help identify against other crab species in the area, count the number of frontal teeth on the carapace. C. sapidus has four frontal teeth while C. ornatus has six. Crabs molt to grow.

Coloration: Back of crab is dark or brownish green. Abdomen and lower legs are white. Claws are various shades of blue except females have red-tipped claws.

Feeding habits/specializations: Omnivore – bivalves, annelids, small fish, plants and almost any other food item it can find along the bottom including carrion and other waste. Blue crabs are scavengers and help “clean up” the water by feeding on most things.

Reproduction: Females only mate one in their lifetime. Mating occurs from May through October. Males will cradle a soft-shelled female for days while he looks for a protected area for her final molt. Once she has molted, the pair mate. After mating, the females travel to southern part of Chesapeake using the tides to migrate to areas of higher salinity. The eggs are fertilized with sperm stored from the only mating (which could be from months to almost a year ago). Up to 2 million eggs may be produced in a single brood while one female can produce of 8,000,000 eggs in a lifetime. The eggs appear as an orange mass on her pleopods for about two weeks before being released between November and December. The eggs hatch and float into the mouth of the bay for about four to five weeks until they make their way back into the bay.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): Carapace width of 9.1 in

Predators: eels, drums, striped bass, spot, trout, some sharks, humans, cownose stingrays, birds and sea turtles.

Importance to humans: Valuable fishery/commercial. Aide in “cleaning up” the water due to their feeding habits.

Conservation status: safe but under management plans throughout the range of the species. Watched carefully as a major commercial fishery.

Fun fact: Blue crabs are Maryland's state crustacean. Males have blue claws and narrow abdominal apron; females have red-tipped claws and broad apron. 




Scientific name: 
Pomatomus saltatrix

Habitat: oceanic and coastal waters most commonly found along surf beaches and rock headlands. Some adults may also be found in estuaries and into brackish water. Migrate to warmer waters in winter and cooler waters in summer. Form schools in open water.

Key characteristics for distinction: dorsal spines 8-9, dorsal soft rays 23-28, anal spines 2-3, anal soft rays 23-27. Jaw teeth prominent, sharp, compressed and in a single series. Two dorsal fins with the first short and low. Black blotch at base of pectoral fin. Forked light green tail fin.

Coloration: Back greenish, sides and belly silvery.

Feeding habits/specializations: aggressive feeders, may attack and destroy numbers in far excess of feeding requirements. Fast swimmers which prey on schools of forage fish. Eats squid and smaller schooling fish like menhaden and anchovies.

Reproduction: Spawns off the mid-Atlantic coast in spring and summer months, juveniles at are at the mercy of the currents. Little data provided.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 4.27 ft

Predators: sharks, tuna, swordfish, humans, seals, sea lions, dolphins

Importance to humans: commercial/fishing

Conservation status: were overfished in past, stock has recently recovered due to management practices which limit harvest. This should allow stocks to rebuild. Expected to make recovery to target biomass.

Fun fact: Very aggressive and have been known to bite humans. Can live for more than 12 years.


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Blue runner

Scientific name: 
Caranx crysos

Habitat: marine, reef-associated, depth 0-100 m. Inshore and offshore environments, known to gather around large man made offshore structures (i.e. oil platforms). Juveniles stay in shallower lagoon and reef waters before migrating back out to deeper water.

Key characteristics for distinction: dorsal spines 9, dorsal soft rays 23, anal spines 3, anal soft rays 19. Distinguished from other species by the extent of the upper jaw, gill raker count and lateral line scale counts.

Coloration: back is bluish green to olive green becoming silvery grey to brassy below. Juveniles may have 7 dark vertical bands. Fin color ranges from dusky to olive green.

Feeding habits/specializations: schooling predatory fish; other fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates. Offshore feeding is exclusively on zooplankton. Reproduction: Spawning occurs offshore year round and peaks during warmer months. Larvae and juveniles live pelagically under sargassum mats or jellyfish until they can move inshore.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 27.5 in

Predators: fish, birds, dolphins

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial, used as bait as well.

Conservation status: least concern (IUCN)

Fun fact: Sometimes forage in small schools alongside actively feeding spinner dolphins taking scraps of food left over.


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Bluespotted cornetfish

Scientific name: 
Fistularia commersonii

Habitat: Adults inhabit reef habitats to a depth of at least 128 m, except in heavy surge areas. Also found in sandy bottoms adjacent to reef areas, solitary or in schools. Benthopelagic.

Key characteristics for distinction: known for its unusual body shape, long and slender. Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 14-17; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 14 - 16; Vertebrae: 83 - 86. Vertically flattened rather than laterally compressed body. Long whiplike tail filament.

Coloration: Color is green dorsally, grading to silvery white ventrally, with two blue stripes or rows of blue spots on the back. Dorsal and anal fin orange becoming transparent at base. Caudal filament white. Broadly banded at night

Feeding habits/specializations: Feed on small fish, crustaceans, squid.

Reproduction: nonguarders, oviparous, pelagic larvae

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 5.25 ft

Predators: other larger fish

Importance to humans: minor commercial/fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: This fish can tolerate the venomous spines of the red lionfish. It has been observed eating lionfish, done by eating the fish tail first to avoid the dangerous spines.


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Buffalo trunkfish

Scientific name: 
Lactophrys trigonus

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated; depth range 2 - 50 m; Inhabits seagrass beds, coral rubble areas, and offshore reefs down to about 50 m

Key characteristics for distinction: Box or trunk shaped with rigid body composed of bony plates covered with a toxic mucus that can be released when stressed.

Coloration: With small diffuse white spots; two areas where the hexagonal plates are dark-edged, forming chain-like markings, one on the pectoral region of the body and the other half way between gill opening and posterior end of carapace; large individuals lose the pale spots and chain markings and develop an irregular dark reticulate pattern over the entire carapace and caudal peduncle *

Feeding habits/specializations: wide variety of small benthic invertebrates such as mollusks, crustaceans, worms and sessile tunicates, as well as some sea grasses

Reproduction: nonguarders

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 1.8 ft

Predators: sharks, larger fish

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial; reports of ciguatera poisoning

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Box or trunk shaped with rigid body composed of bony plates covered with a toxic mucus that can be released when stressed.


Clearnose Skate

Clearnose skate

Scientific name: 
Raja eglanteria

Habitat: brackish and salt water, shallow waters but may frequent deep water. Stays near seafloor (sand or soft sediment)

Key characteristics for distinction: Characterized by the presence of a single row of thorns along mid-ridge of its dorsal side from shoulder to tail. Two dorsal fins located on posterior end of tail. Small dark spots and bars on dorsal side.

Coloration: usually dark or light brown or gray with many darker round spots and bars present. Often there are irregular spots of lighter pigmentation present on the upper surface as well. As its name suggests there are translucent spaces on either side of the rostral ridge. The ventral surface is white and lacks any markings. *

Feeding habits/specializations: Its normal foods are crustaceans and mollusks, such as sand fleas and fiddler crabs. Also eats polychaetes and squid and other fish. 46-54 upper teeth and 48 lower teeth; close-set and low conical cusps.

Reproduction: Breed inshore. Oviparous. Male will bite the female’s pectoral fin and bend its tail beneath hers. One of the claspers from the male is used to transfer sperm. The female will store this sperm in the upper portion of the shell gland where it will remain viable for at least three months. Eggs, often called “mermaids purses” are laid in multiple pairs in stages from 1-13 days. A single female may lay up to 66 eggs in one season which may last from December to May. Eggs are incubated around three months but it may be less time later in the season. Eggs are oblong capsules with stiff pointed horns at each corner.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 ft

Predators: larger fish like the sand tiger shark.

Importance to humans: Not commercially fished but may be caught as bycatch inshore. Has been used as food in other regions.

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: Do not have a spine like those found on stingrays but do possess thorns which could injure someone if stepped on or picked up.




Scientific name: 
Rachycentron canadum

Habitat: Occur in a variety of habitats, over mud, sand and gravel bottoms; over coral reefs, off rocky shores and in mangrove sloughs; inshore around pilings and buoys, and offshore around drifting and stationary objects; occasionally in estuaries

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 7 - 9; Dorsal soft rays (total): 26-33; Anal spines: 2-3; Anal soft rays: 22 - 28. Head broad and depressed. First dorsal fin with short but strong isolated spines, not connected by a membrane. Caudal fin lunate in adults, upper lobe longer than lower. Forked tail fin.

Coloration: Back and sides dark brown, with 2 sharply defined narrow silvery bands which sandwich a dark band that runs laterally from head to tail. Yellowish or grayish white belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats mostly crabs and shrimp, but will also feed on squid and smaller fish and rays. Opportunistic hunter with large appetite.

Reproduction: Spawn during the warm months in the western Atlantic; eggs and larvae planktonic. Can spawn more than once a season. Eggs collect near surface of water. Hatch within 24 hours of fertilization.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 6.5 ft

Predators: larger fish prey on young cobia

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Puts up a tremendous fight when hooked; also known as crab-eater and kingfish.



Cownose ray

Scientific name: 
Rhinoptera bonasus

Habitat: Marine; brackish; benthopelagic; oceanodromous. Lives in schools near the surface of shallow waters.

Key characteristics for distinction: Kite-shaped body. Squared, indented snout that resembles a cow’s nose

Coloration: Varies in color from brown to olive green. Whitish belly. Long, brown tail that looks like a whip

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats mollusks such as oysters, hard clams and soft-shelled clams. Finds its prey by flapping its fins against the bottom to uncover buried shellfish. It then uses its powerful dental plates to crush the shells open. Has been known to destroy bay grass beds and cause considerable losses to commercial clam and oyster harvests while feeding

Reproduction: The breeding period is considered to be June through October. The embryo grows within its mother with its wings folded over its body. Initially it is nourished by an egg yolk, although the uterine secretions of the mother nourish it later in its development. There is some dispute about the length of gestation. At full term the offspring is born live, exiting tail first.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 7 ft

Predators: Cobia, bull sharks and sandbar sharks are known predators

Importance to humans: not commercially fished but there is consideration to start fishing due to the damage these animals put on bay grass beds and oyster harvest areas. Mostly bycatch.

Conservation status: near threatened

Fun fact: Forms schools based on sex and age. It swims by flapping its fins like a bird. When the tips of the fins break the surface and can look like shark fins.


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Flying gurnard

Scientific name: 
Dactylopterus volitans

Habitat: Marine; brackish; reef-associated; depth range 1 - 100 m. Found on sand, mud or over rocks in sandy areas, exploring the bottom with the free part of the pectoral fins

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 7; Dorsal soft rays (total): 8; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 6. Pectoral fin very large and fan-like, with front 6 rays separated as small lobe. They have heavy, protective scales.

Coloration: Body in shades of gray to yellow brown with white spots; pectoral fins often with a brilliant, iridescent blue line and dot markings.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds primarily on benthic crustaceans, especially crabs, clams and small fishes.

Reproduction: little information known; external fertilization of eggs.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 1.6 ft

Predators: other larger fish, sea breams and mackerel

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: When excited, the fish spreads its "wings", which are semi-transparent and tipped with a phosphorescent bright blue coloration. They possess a swim bladder with two lobes and a "drumming muscle" that produce sounds.


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Gafftopsail catfish

Scientific name: 
Bagre marinus

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal; depth range 0 - 50 m. Mainly marine but enters brackish estuaries with relatively high salinities. Found near piers, jetties, reefs, and the surf.

Key characteristics for distinction: Anal soft rays: 22 - 28. Maxillary barbels, first ray of dorsal fin, and first ray of pectoral fin extended as long, flat filaments. 1 pair of barbels on chin. The dorsal and pectoral fins are equipped with a serrated erectile spine, both of which are venomous. It also has a little hump that looks somewhat like a wave. Its dorsal spine has a distinctive fleshy extension

Coloration: blue-grey to dark brown with a light grey belly. Its appearance is typical for a catfish except for the deeply forked tail and the venomous, serrated spines. Anal fin is white or pale blue.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mainly on small fishes and invertebrates. Feeds throughout the water column.

Reproduction: Spawn over inshore mudflats during a relatively short time span (10 days) from May to August; they are mouthbreeders. The male of the species fertilizes the eggs of the female, and broods them in his mouth until they hatch. The males do not feed while they are carrying the eggs or young

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2.3 ft

Predators: tiger shark and bull shark as well as humans

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial; venomous

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: The dorsal and pectoral fins are equipped with a serrated erectile spine, both of which are venomous.


Gag Grouper

Gag grouper

Scientific name: 
Mycteroperca microlepis

Habitat: Marine; brackish; reef-associated; oceanodromous. Juveniles occur in estuaries and seagrass beds; adults are usually found offshore on rocky bottom; occasionally inshore on rocky or grassy bottom. It is the most common grouper on rocky ledges in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Adults are either solitary or in groups of 5 to 50 individuals. *

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 11; Dorsal soft rays (total): 16-18; Anal spines: 3; Anal soft rays: 10 - 12. …. Oblong-shaped elongate body. The head is long while the mouth is large with a protruding lower jaw. The bases of the dorsal and anal fins are covered with scales and thick skin. The caudal fin is large and has a slightly concave margin. This grouper is often confused with the black grouper (M. bonaci), however it is has some distinguishing characteristics. These include the shape of the caudal fin - the gag grouper has a slightly concave margin along the posterior edge of the caudal fin while the black grouper has square-shaped caudal fin *

Coloration: Coloration is dependent on the sex and age… Adult females and juveniles are generally brownish grey with dark vermiculation; camouflage phase has 5 dark brown saddles separated by short white bars below the dorsal fin; large males sometimes display a "black-belly" and "black-back" phase; black-belly phase is mostly pale grey, with faint dark reticulations below soft dorsal fin, belly and ventral part of the body above anal fin black, as are margin of the soft dorsal fin, central rear part of caudal fin and rear margins of pectoral and pelvic fins *

Feeding habits/specializations: feed mainly on fishes, some crabs, shrimps, and cephalopods. Juveniles feed mainly on crustaceans that live in shallow grass beds. There are two well-developed canine teeth present anteriorly in each jaw. These are quite effective for holding prey items.

Reproduction: Similar to other serranids, gag grouper are protogynous hermaphrodites. They begin life as female, however after a few years of spawning as a female, some gag groupers change sex, becoming functional males. This transition generally occurs at 10-11 years of age corresponding to lengths of 37-39 inches. Spawning occurs from January through May in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic Bight at offshore spawning grounds. There is a major spawning ground on the west Florida Shelf. The fertilized eggs are pelagic and transparent, containing a single oil globule. Eggs hatch after approximately 45 hours at water temperatures of 70ºF (21ºC) (laboratory study). The kite-shaped, as postlarvae they migrate from the spawning grounds to inshore seagrasses, mangroves, oyster reefs and salt marshes. Juveniles remain in these locations for approximately 3-5 months migrating to offshore reefs. *source

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 4.1 ft

Predators: may fall prey to cannibalism as well as to large fishes. Sharks and other large fishes.

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: least concern currently…was vulnerable back in 1996

Fun fact: Recordings have been made of adult gag grouper under duress producing thumping sounds through the swim bladder. *


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Gray snapper

Scientific name: 
Lutjanus griseus

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish; reef-associated; amphidromous. Adults inhabit coastal as well as offshore waters around coral reefs, rocky areas, estuaries, mangrove areas, and sometimes in lower reaches of rivers (especially the young). They are found in fresh water in Florida.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 10; Dorsal soft rays (total): 13-14; Anal spines: 3; Anal soft rays: 7 - 8. Dorsal profile of head slightly concave, snout long and pointed. Preopercular notch and knob weak. Scale rows on back parallel to lateral line anteriorly, but rising obliquely posteriorly, below soft part of dorsal fin. Young specimens with a dark stripe from snout through the eye to upper opercle and a blue stripe on cheek below eye.

Coloration: the body and fins of gray snappers are gray to green with a reddish tinge. Evident on the sides of the fish are rows of small reddish to orange spots. The median fins are darker than the paired fins, often edged with yellow or white and the pectoral fins are colorless. The back edge of the anal fin is rounded. There is no black spot on the side of body. Young gray snappers have a prominent dark stripe from the snout through the eye and a less conspicuous blue stripe on the cheek, below the eye. They may also at times show a lateral pattern of narrow pale bars on the body. The fins of juveniles are reddish-orange with dark edges.*

Feeding habits/specializations: Often forming large aggregations. Feed mainly at night on small fishes, shrimps, crabs, gastropods, cephalopods and some planktonic items. Reproduction: Spawning occurs from April to November with a peak during the summer months, and is influenced by the lunar cycle. Individual snappers may spawn multiple times during the course of the reproductive season. Gray snapper spawn in aggregations during the times surrounding the full moon. Broadcast spawner of demersal eggs from which hatch sparsely pigmented larvae approximately 20 hours post-fertilization.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 ft

Predators: sharks, barracuda, grouper, moray eels and other snapper species

Importance to humans: Reports of ciguatera poisoning

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Jaws have a narrow band of villiform (fine, densely packed hair-like) teeth, while the upper jaw contains four strong canine teeth, two of which are enlarged and easy to see.


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Gray triggerfish

Scientific name: 
Balistes capriscus

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated; depth range 0 - 100 m.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 3; Dorsal soft rays (total): 26-29; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 23 - 26. Tall, with a small mouth and plate like scales. Three faint irregular broad dark bars on body; a narrow pale transverse band on chin; small light blue spots on upper half of body and median fins, and irregular short lines ventrally

Coloration: The primary body color of adult gray triggerfish is light gray to olive-gray to yellowish-brown. This fish appears dull gray while swimming in open waters, however it has the ability to change its coloration slightly to match other surroundings. Gray triggerfish fade in color as they age.

Feeding habits/specializations: The mouth is small with strong jaws that contain eight strong incisor-like specialized teeth used to chisel holes of hard-shelled prey items. Benthic invertebrates such as shrimp, crabs, sea urchins, sand dollars, sea stars, sea cucumbers, and bivalve mollusks. Juvenile triggerfish associated with sargassum communities feed on algae, hydroids, barnacles, and polychaetes.

Reproduction: During July through September after water temperatures reach 70°F, build their nests on the bottom substrate. Between 50,000 and 100,00 eggs, depending upon the size of the female, are laid in a hollow nest scooped out of the sand. Polygamous mating between males and females is largely random with no long-term pair bonding. The adult triggerfish guard the nest from potential predators. Eggs hatch within 48-55 hours.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2 ft

Predators: Tuna, dolphinfish, marlin, sailfish and sharks prey upon juvenile gray triggerfish while amberjack, grouper, and sharks are known to prey upon the adults.

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial. Human consumption of the gray triggerfish has been linked to cases of ciguatera poisoning.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: When threatened, the triggerfish will dive into a tight crevice, wedging itself tightly and anchoring into place by erecting and locking the first spine of the first dorsal fin.


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Gulf kingfish

Scientific name: 
Menticirrhus littoralis

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal; oceanodromous. Occurs usually in coastal waters over sandy and muddy bottoms; juveniles are abundant in the surf zone. Sometimes enters estuaries.

Key characteristics for distinction: Lower jaw has single, stout, peg-like barbel with pore at tip. Scales on belly smaller than those on side

Coloration: Grayish brown above, shading to silvery below, no prominent bars.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mainly on worms and crustaceans.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 1.6 ft

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: also known as kingcroakers.

Sources:, limited data available online


Atlantic horseshoe crab

Scientific name: 
Limulus polyphemus

Habitat: Juveniles found in shallow protected waters with sandy bottom; adults live in deeper waters.

Key characteristics for distinction: The horseshoe crab is a primitive-looking arthropod with a hard, brownish-green exoskeleton and a spike-like tail. Widely spaced eyes that look like bumps on the top of the shell. Five pairs of jointed legs. Gills have folds of membranes that look like leaves of a book.

Coloration: brownish-green exoskeleton; juveniles are sand-colored

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats mostly worms and mollusks such as razor clams and soft shell clams. Because they lack jaws, horseshoe crabs use the spiny bases of their legs to crush and grind their food, then push it into their mouths. Spends most of its time rooting through bottom sediments looking for food.

Reproduction: Spawning takes place in spring and summer (peaking in May-June), usually during evening high tides when the moon is full or new. Large numbers of adults crawl up onto sandy, protected beaches to mate and lay eggs. Females lay clusters of about 4,000 greenish eggs in the sand around the high-tide mark. They return to the beach to lay more eggs during high tides throughout the season. Eggs take about one month to hatch.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2 ft

Predators: shorebirds eat eggs; variety of fish, invertebrates and turtles eat eggs and larvae; humans for bait and medical research

Importance to humans: Use of blood as a medical research aide is multimillion dollar industry in the US; the blood has a unique clotting quality first discovered at Johns Hopkins University in 1885. The amebocytes clot when they come in contact with any endotoxin such as a virus or bacteria. Scientists extract the clotting agent to test medical supplies and pharmaceuticals for contaminants. Extract named: Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) and approved by FDA in 1970s.

Conservation status: near threatened

Fun fact: Horseshoe crabs have existed for more than 300 million years and are sometimes called “living fossils.”


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Scientific name:
Elops saurus

Habitat: Marine; brackish; reef-associated. Occur in shallow neritic areas, over muddy bottoms. Also found in brackish estuaries and juveniles are common in lagoons and hyper-saline bays *FB The ladyfish prefers open water areas in channels with moderate currents, and shallow bars and eddies at bends in rivers. It lives to depths of 160 feet (50 m). *FLMNH

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 25-29; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 16 - 19; Vertebrae: 73 - 85. Scales small, more than 100 in lateral line. Gular plate narrow. *FB It is an elongate, slender, and robust fish with a large, deeply forked caudal fin. The body is rough with small, thin, silvery scales. The lateral line runs straight down the length of the fish. The head of the ladyfish is small and pointed with a large terminal mouth. The caudal lobes of the ladyfish are long and slender. *FLMNH

Coloration: Silvery overall, with bluish on upper surface.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feed mainly on crustaceans and small fishes. Larvae do not forage but absorb nutrients directly from water. Adult fish swallows its prey whole.

Reproduction: Spawn in the open sea throughout the year.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 ft

Predators: Larger fish and carnivorous zooplankton may prey upon the ladyfish eggs and juveniles. Adult ladyfish are susceptible to piscivorous birds, sharks, porpoises, and alligators.*FLMNH

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: Larvae do not forage but absorb nutrients directly from water. Adult fish swallows its prey whole.

Sources: fishbase, flmnh.ufl


Leopard searobin

Scientific name: 
Prionotus scitulus

Habitat: Marine; demersal; depth range ? - 45 m. Inhabits shallow-water bays. *FB

Key characteristics for distinction: Body elongate and slim, head large with bony ridges and spines, width between eyes narrow. Pectoral fin large, wing-like, lower 3 rays free; pelvic rays long, translucent; 1st dorsal fin with 2 black spots, 1 between 1st and 2nd spines, the other between the 4th and 5th spines; throat area with no scales. The leopard searobin tends to be more slender than other local searobins and is the only one with 2 dark spots on its 1st dorsal fin. Other searobins have 1 or no spots. *

Coloration: Color brown or orange spots on lighter background, belly white, sometime with diffused, oblique bands on sides. Dorsal, tail and pectoral fins with brown to orange spots; anal fin with white on tips and near body and translucent darker stripe between

Feeding habits/specializations: bottom-feeding scorpaeniform fishes. Use spiny “legs” to stir up food from the bottom.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 10 in

Importance to humans: minor fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Get their name for large pectoral fins which open and close like a bird’s wings in flight.




Scientific name: 
Selene vomer

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal; depth range 1 - 53 m. Adults are found in shallow coastal waters, usually over hard or sandy bottoms. Juveniles may be encountered in estuarine areas and sandy beaches

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 9; Dorsal soft rays (total): 23; Anal spines: 3; Anal soft rays: 18. Pelvic fin small. Thin, flattened, silvery body. Flattened head. Large mouth located low on the face. Long, thin first rays on the back and anal fins. Deeply forked tail and a small tail base

Coloration: Silvery on both sides with a darker tinge on top.

Feeding habits/specializations: Adults feed on small crabs, shrimps, fishes, and worms.

Reproduction: Spawns by laying eggs into the water column. Little data on this species.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 19 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: minor commercial/fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Gets its name from the way it appears to “look down” as it swims.



Northern kingfish

Scientific name: 
Menticirrhus saxatilis

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal. Occurs usually in shallow coastal waters over sand to sandy mud bottoms. Common in the surf zone and in estuaries. Juveniles may enter tidal rivers and creeks of low salinity.

Key characteristics for distinction: Its upper jaw projects further than the lower and the snout overhangs the mouth. There is a small barbel on its fleshy lower lip. The dorsal fin is divided into two parts. The front part is triangular, short but tall with 10 spines, the third of which is the longest and is extended into a short filament. The other part of the dorsal fin is long and slightly tapered and has one spine and 24 to 27 soft rays. The pointed pectoral fins are quite large and the anal fin has 1 spine and 8 soft rays. The tailfin has a characteristic slightly concave upper lobe and a rounded lower lobe.

Coloration: Dark grey metallic sheen and paler grey below. Several diagonal bars dark in color which appear on the upper portion of the body; these bars run mostly towards the tail end of the body but one or two near the head slope the other direction. Fins are dark in color and tipped in white.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mainly on worms and crustaceans.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs from June until August in bays and sounds, young are unlikely to be found in the Gulf of Maine. Many males mature at 2 years, but few females mature until 3 years of age.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 18 in

Predators: other large fish

Importance to humans: fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Unlike most members of its family, the northern kingfish has no air bladder, so the fish does not make the "croaking" sound that is characteristic of the family.



Northern searobin

Scientific name: 
Prionotus carolinus

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal; depth range 15 - 170 m. Occurs on sandy bottom.

Key characteristics for distinction: The northern sea robin can be identified by its broad spiny head, tapering body, blue eyes, and large, wing-like pectoral fins.

Coloration: The dorsal surface is reddish or grayish, the chin black, the belly pale and the fins reddish-brown with darker edges and paling to greyish-white at their bases.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds on shrimps, crabs, other crustaceans, squid, bivalves and small fishes. Bottom-feeding scorpaeniform fishes. Use spiny “legs” to stir up food from the bottom.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 15 in

Importance to humans: Used both for food and fish meal; other uses include bait for lobster traps and flatfish, handlines, pet food and fertilizer.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: When caught, they make a croaking noise similar to a frog, which has given them the onomatopoeic name gurnard. Get their name for large pectoral fins which open and close like a bird’s wings in flight.


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Orange filefish 

Scientific name: 
Aluterus schoepfii

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated; depth range 3 - 900 m. Usually found over bottoms with seagrass, sand, or mud. Juveniles are associated with floating Sargassum. Solitary or in pairs

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 2; Dorsal soft rays (total): 32-39; Anal spines: 0; Anal soft rays: 35 - 41. Pelvic terminus always absent; head and body with numerous small round orange or orange-yellow spots; lips often blackish. The snout is pointed and the mouth is terminal.

Coloration: varies from olive gray to rich orange-yellow or milky-white on the dorsal surface with mottling of darker hues of these same colors. Large irregular pale blotches may also be present. The lips are often darker in color than the body. The caudal fin is typically yellowish on adult specimens or may be dusky and edged in white. The bottom surface of the body is bluish-white in color.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds on a variety of plants, including algae and seagrasses. Generally considered as trash fish, rarely consumed.

Reproduction: Filefish breed in groups consisting of one male and two to five females. The females lay demersal eggs in safe areas such as a depression in the sand, then the male comes along and fertilizes them. The male or female will guard these fertilized eggs from predators and will attack any intruders that approach too closely. Juvenile filefish are pelagic, searching out floating sargassum for protection

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2 ft

Predators: fish and seabirds

Importance to humans: Known as a trash fish; rarely consumed. Aquarium display fish.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: The male or female guards fertilized eggs from predators and will attack any intruders that approach too closely.


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Oyster toadfish

Scientific name: 
Opsanus tau

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated. Largely inhabits inshore water on rocky bottoms and reefs, jetties and wrecks. Frequently occurs among litter and tolerates polluted water.

Key characteristics for distinction: Scaleless, flattened body. Fleshy flaps or “whiskers” on the cheeks and jaw. Big, bulging eyes on top of large flat head. Broad mouth with strong rounded teeth. Spiny dorsal fin.

Coloration: Olive-brown back with dark blotches; pale belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: Mostly small crabs/crustaceans. Also eats mollusks and small fish.

Reproduction: Spawning males make a distinctive “foghorn” call to attract a mate. Spawns April-October. Males nest in dark secluded location then call for female. Female lays sticky eggs on nest then leaves. Male protects eggs and keeps nest clean.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 17 in

Predators: May be eaten by sharks. Hides from predators within oyster reefs and rocky areas. Protects itself with strong jaws and spiny dorsal fin.

Importance to humans: Becoming important as an experimental fish because of its size and hardiness.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: An oyster toadfish will quickly take an angler's bait. But watch out! It has powerful, snapping jaws and sharp spines on the dorsal fin.


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Scientific name: 
Trachinotus goodei

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated. Adults form schools in clear coastal areas, usually near coral formations. Juveniles common in clean sandy beaches.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 7 - 8; Dorsal soft rays (total): 19-20; Anal spines: 2-3; Anal soft rays: 16 - 18. Dorsal and anal fins have very long, dark anterior lobes. Deeply forked tail and elongated anterior dorsal fin. Highly laterally compressed body, making the fish appear thin and tall.

Coloration: Bluish silver on back, shading to silver on sides, with four narrow dark bars on upper of body

Feeding habits/specializations: crustaceans, polychaete worms, insect pupae, mollusks and fishes. They usually travel in schools of about ten, but may school in larger numbers; larger permit tend to be more solitary, feeding alone or in pairs. Uses its hard mouth to dig into the benthos and root up its prey.

Reproduction: spawning may last all year, but occurs primarily from May through June in the Florida Keys. Spawning peaks during these summer months, with extended spawning seasons occurring outside this main period and a decrease in spawning activity during the winter months.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 20 in

Predators: larger fish like sharks and barracuda.

Importance to humans: commercial and sport fishing

Conservation status: least concern


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Pencil urchin

Scientific name: 
Eucidaris tribuloides

Habitat: Inhabits shallow coastal waters usually no deeper than 150 feet. Commonly found in seagrass beds, under rocks, coral crevices and near algae-encrusted rubble.

Key characteristics for distinction: short, thick spines that usually measure no longer than 5 inches. Primary spines arranged vertically in 10 rows. Secondary rows of short spines arranged between the longer spines.

Coloration: brown to reddish-brown.

Feeding habits/specializations: main diet is algae, they are omnivorous creatures that will feed upon small invertebrates such as bivalves, gastropods, bryozoans, and sponges, along with detritus.

Reproduction: Sensitive to seasonal cycles and possibly lunar cycle; external fertilization.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2-3 in (body size)

Predators: sea otters, larger fish, sea stars

Importance to humans: E. tribuloides has become an invasive species in some parts of the world including Maltese waters where it has been since 1998. This was the first record in the Mediterranean and is thought to have been brought there in ballast water. (M. Scibberas and P. J. Schembri, 2007) *

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: When damaged, spines can be regenerated




Scientific name: 
Orthopristis chrysoptera

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal; oceanodromous; Inhabits coastal waters, over sand and mud bottoms. Forms schools.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 8; Dorsal soft rays (total): 15-17; Anal spines: 3; Anal soft rays: 12 - 13. Back elevated; snout long and tapering. Mouth a little oblique; maxillary reaching vertical from first nostril. Scales in oblique rows above lateral line and horizontal rows below lateral line, extending on base of caudal, pelvic and pectoral fins; also forming a low sheath on base of anal and dorsal fins.

Coloration: vary from a light blue-grey to light brown dorsally, gradually fading to silver below and occasionally possessing irregular vertical bars or a dark brown mottled appearance, particularly on the head. Each scale of the pigfish has a blue center with a bronze spot on the edge. These spots form stripes, which above the lateral line trail slightly upwards and below the lateral line extend horizontally. Fins are yellow-brown with dusky, dark margins. *

Feeding habits/specializations: Mainly nocturnal; crustaceans and smaller fishes; undergoes seasonal migration as well as local nocturnal-diurnal foraging migrations

Reproduction: Spawning can occur from January to June, depending on location, with the greatest frequency in March and April; within this single spawning season, however, females are thought to spawn multiple times (i.e., they release their eggs in batches); spawning takes place at dusk in offshore areas prior to inshore migrations or in calm, near-shore waters such as harbors and inlets, where larvae are often found.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 18.1 in

Predators: larger fish such as snappers, groupers, sharks and spotted seatrout

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Members of this family make a "grunting" or "chattering" noise when agitated by rubbing their pharyngeal teeth together.


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Scientific name: 
Lagodon rhomboides

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish; demersal. Commonly found on vegetated bottoms, occasionally over rocky bottoms and in mangrove areas. Enters brackish water and even freshwaters. Often forms large aggregations.

Key characteristics for distinction: The anterior dorsal fin has 12 rigid, spiny rays capable of superficially puncturing human skin, giving the species its common name, pinfish.

Coloration: Both the male and the female have a silvery sheen with five to six vertical bars on the side. They have olive backs with yellow and white pigmentation and blue, green, and purple iridescence.

Feeding habits/specializations: small animals, especially crustaceans, but also takes mollusks, worms and occasionally small fishes that are associated with the grassy habitat.

Reproduction: Sexual maturity is reached at about one year, when the fish is 80 to 100 mm in length. Spawning season is in the fall and winter. Eggs are broadcast in the water by the female, then fertilized by the male. The number of eggs varies from 7,000 to 90,000. They hatch after about 48 hours. Larvae are not protected by adults.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 16 in

Predators: larger fish such as gar, ladyfish, spotted sea trout, red drum, pelicans and dolphins

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial/bait

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: spiny rays capable of superficially puncturing human skin, giving the species its common name, pinfish.


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Planehead filefish

Scientific name: 
Stephanolepis hispidus

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated; depth range 0 - 293 m. It is found near the seabed on reefs and over sandy and muddy sea floors. It is often found among Sargassum seaweed.

Key characteristics for distinction: The fish is laterally compressed and deep bodied. The snout is elongated with a terminal mouth. The large yellow eye is set high on the head and above it is a prominent retractable spine. This is the anterior of the 2 spines associated with the long dorsal fin, which also has 29 to 35 soft rays. The anal fin has no spines and between 30 and 35 soft rays. The pectoral fins are small and the tail fin is large and fan-shaped, often with two darker colored bands

Coloration: The color is cryptic, being a more or less mottled pale brown, olive or green on a light coloured background, sometimes with darker brown splotches and streaks.

Reproduction: nonguarders, open waters, egg scatterers

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 11 in

Predators: bony fish, sharks and rays

Importance to humans: Reports of ciguatera poisoning; minor fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated


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Purple urchin

Scientific name:
Arbacia punctulata

Habitat: primarily found in the low intertidal zone. The purple sea urchin thrives amid strong wave action and areas with churning aerated water. The giant kelp forests provide a feast for S. purpuratus. Many sea urchins can be found on the ocean floor near the holdfast of the kelp.

Key characteristics for distinction: round body that consists of a radially symmetrical test, or shell, covered with large spines.

Coloration: This test is covered with spines that are generally bright purple for adults. Younger urchins have purple tinged spines that are mostly pale green in color.

Feeding habits/specializations: As a sedentary invertebrate, primarily feeds on algae. Bits of algae are a common food that urchins snag out of the water. The tube feet, spines, and pedicellariae are used to grab the food and aid it into the mouth. In addition to grabbing food out of the water, it scrapes algae off the rocks or substrate. It's mouth consists of a strong jaw piece called Aristotle's lantern. The mouthpiece itself has five bony teeth that are instrumental in scraping the algae off the substrate. While any algae will satisfy the appetite of the purple sea urchin, this species prefers the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera.

Reproduction: January, February, and March are the primary reproductive months of S. purpuratus. It has been noted, however, that ripe individuals can be found even into the month of July. Purple sea urchins reach sexual maturity at the age of two years. At this time they are about 25mm in diameter or greater. Once sexually mature, females and males release their gametes into the ocean where fertilization occurs. The fertilized egg then settles and begins to grow into an adult.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 4 in

Predators: sea otters, sunflower stars, California sheephead

Importance to humans: Purple sea urchins feed on the giant kelp, as mentioned previously. In their feeding, they can destroy entire forests of kelp. These kelp forests are commercially important for fisheries. They are even more important in that the blades of the kelp can be harvested for algin.

Conservation status: not evaluated



Red drum

Scientific name: 
Sciaenops ocellatus

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal; oceanodromous. Occurs usually over sand and sandy mud bottoms in coastal waters and estuaries. Abundant in surf zone.

Key characteristics for distinction: The body of the red drum is elongate with a slightly arched back and sloping head. It has a blunt snout with a large sub-terminal mouth similar to most species in the Sciaenidae family. There are two dorsal fins, the first of which has ten hard spines and the second with one hard spine and numerous soft rays. The caudal fin is slightly concave. The red drum can be distinguished from the closely related black drum (Pogonias cromis) by its lack of barbels.

Coloration: The red drum is usually a copper reddish color. Coloration can also range from a deep dark copper to an almost silvery sheen. The ventral side is usually a lighter color to almost white. Red drums have a distinctive black spot near the base of the tail. One spot is most common however some individuals exhibit several spots.

Feeding habits/specializations: crustaceans, mollusks and fishes. Females can produce one-half to two million eggs per season with each egg measuring approximately 1.0mm in diameter. Eggs hatch at approximately 28-30 hours after spawning resulting in larvae that are about 6-8 mm standard length.

Reproduction: Spawning usually takes place from mid-August to mid-November, often near tidal inlets.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 61 in

Predators: The main predator of the red drum is humans. Other predators include birds of prey including ospreys, as well as larger fishes. The black tail spot is thought to be used as mechanism to confuse predators into attacking the tail instead of the head.

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Drums are known to make a characteristic drumming noise during spawning.


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Sand drum

Scientific name: 
Umbrina coroides

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal. Inhabits the surf zone along sandy beaches, but in clear water. Also occurs over muddy bottoms in estuaries and sometimes near coral reef areas.

Feeding habits/specializations: small crustaceans washed out of sand by the surf

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 14 in

Importance to humans: fishing/minor commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

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Scrawled cowfish

Scientific name: 
Acanthostracion quadricornis

Habitat: primarily in seagrass beds to depths of 262 feet (80 m).

Key characteristics for distinction: deep, covered with hexagonal-shaped dermal plates that are securely fused together to form a "carapace". There is a pair of spines projecting from in front of the eyes, similar in appearance to cow horns, hence its common name of "cowfish". A second pair of spines is located at the rear corners of the carapace. The carapace terminates around the base of the soft dorsal and anal fins. The terminal mouth is small with fleshy lips. Pelvic fins and spiny dorsal fin are absent. The caudal fin is rounded, truncate, or slightly produced ventrally or dorsally.

Coloration: typically grayish-brown to yellowish-green with numerous blackish-blue to bright blue irregular bars and spots. There are dark spots or blotches on the body. In addition, there are three to four more or less parallel blue stripes on the cheek which can be prominent, however some individuals appear relatively plain, lacking these prominent markings.

Feeding habits/specializations: sessile invertebrates such as tunicates, gorgonians, and anemones in addition to slow-moving crustaceans, sponges, hermit crabs and marine vegetation.

Reproduction: Spawning has been documented off Venezuela during the months of January through February and June through September. Eggs are released in pelagic waters with the larval stage is completed while still pelagic, with juveniles eventually settling out of the water column.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 22 in

Predators: Larger fish are potential predators of the scrawled cowfish, however it may be undesirable as a prey item due to its protective external armor, the carapace.

Importance to humans: considered an excellent food fish and is often marketed fresh. However, it has been implicated in boxfish poisoning when not prepared properly. There have also been reports of ciguatera poisoning from eating the flesh of this fish.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: There is a pair of spines projecting from in front of the eyes, similar in appearance to cow horns, hence its common name of "cowfish.”

Sources:, (map only)

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Scrawled filefish

Scientific name: 
Aluterus scriptus

Habitat: Associated with lagoons and seaward reefs. Also sometimes observed swimming under floating objects with juveniles traveling with weed rafts in the open ocean until reaching a large size.

Key characteristics for distinction: It is an elongate, strongly compressed filefish. The upturned mouth is small and opens above center line and the snout is concave. The openings of the gills are oblique and the pelvic fin is absent. The caudal fin is long and rounded with a back edge that is often ragged.

Coloration: Adult scrawled filefish are olive brown to gray in color with irregular blue spots and short lines as well as small black spots while the juveniles may be yellowish brown with dark spots.

Feeding habits/specializations: feeds on algae, seagrass, hydrozoans, gorgonians, colonial anemones, and tunicates.

Reproduction: breed in groups consisting of one male and two to five females. The females lay demersal eggs in safe areas such as a depression in the sand, then the male comes along and fertilizes them. The male or female will guard these fertilized eggs from predators and will attack any intruders that approach too closely. Upon hatching, the female will take care of the young fish.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 43 in

Predators: Larger fish are potential predators of the scrawled filefish including dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) and bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus).

Importance to humans: gamefish in some locations; if flesh is eaten, caution should be taken as there have been reports of ciguatera poisoning.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: When threatened, the filefish dives into a crevice, wedging itself by erecting the dorsal spine on its head. This large spine is locked into place by the smaller spine behind it while another spine located on the belly extends to further securely wedging the fish in the crevice.




Scientific name: 
Stenotomus chrysops

Habitat: Marine; demersal; oceanodromous. Occurs usually in schools inshore in summer and offshore in winter.

Key characteristics for distinction: deep-bodied (deeper from back to belly than they are wide) and spiny fins. Scup’s front teeth are very narrow, almost conical, and they have two rows of molars in the upper jaw. Longspine porgy look similar to scup, but can be easily identified by the elongated spines on their backs.

Coloration: dusky brown with bright silvery reflections below; adult fins are mottled with dark brown, and young scup fins may be faintly barred.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds on amphipods, worms, sand dollars and young squid.

Reproduction: They spawn over weedy or sandy areas. Scientists believe scup spawn in the morning, unlike most fish that spawn at night. Females release an average of 7,000 eggs, which are fertilized externally.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 18 in

Predators: other larger fish; humans

Importance to humans: Reports of ciguatera poisoning. Fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated




Scientific name: 
Archosargus probatocephalus

Habitat: inshore around rock pilings, jetties, mangrove roots, and piers as well as in tidal creeks, the euryhaline sheepshead prefers brackish waters.

Key characteristics for distinction: oval-shaped, deep body with a blunt snout and small, nearly horizontal mouth. The posterior nostril is slit-like in appearance. Dorsal and anal fins include stout, short spines. The second spine of the anal fin is enlarged. Pectoral fins are long, extending beyond the anal opening when appressed (pressed close to the body). The caudal fin is shallowly forked.

Coloration: The adult sheepshead is silvery to greenish-yellow with an olive back. There are five or six dark vertical crossbars along each side, which are most distinct in young individuals. The caudal and pectoral fins are greenish while the dorsal, anal, and ventral fins are dusky or black.

Feeding habits/specializations: Teeth of the sheepshead include well-defined incisors, molars, and grinders. At the front of the jaw are the incisor-like teeth. The molars are arranged in three rows in the upper jaw and two rows in the lower jaw. Heavy, strong teeth are necessary for crushing and grinding the shelled animals that are prey for this fish. Feeding on invertebrates, small vertebrates and occasional plant material.

Reproduction: Adults migrate to offshore waters to spawn, later returning to nearshore waters and estuaries. Spawning frequency ranges from once a day to once every 20 days. Little is known regarding spawning behavior. Depending upon their condition, females may produce from 1,100 to 250,000 eggs per spawning event. One study determined that those fishes found closer to shore averaged 11,000 eggs per spawning event while those offshore averaged 87,000 eggs per batch. The buoyant eggs are approximately 0.8mm in diameter, hatching 28 hours following fertilization at 23°C.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 29.5 in

Predators: sharks and other large fish

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not endangered or vulnerable; once over-harvested but management actions have aided recovery.

Fun fact: Females produce from 1,100 to 250,000 eggs per spawning event. One study determined that those fishes found closer to shore averaged 11,000 eggs per spawning event while those offshore averaged 87,000 eggs per batch.


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Smooth butterfly ray

Scientific name: 
Gymnura micrura

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal. Prefers neritic waters of the continental shelf and usually found on soft bottoms. May enter brackish estuaries or hyper-saline lagoons.

Key characteristics for distinction: Broad, diamond-shaped ray with a very short tail lacking a dorsal spine. Snout protruding. Front edges of disk concave. Tail with low dorsal and ventral finfolds and 3 - 4 dark crossbars. This ray can be distinguished from the spiny butterfly ray (G. altavela) by the absence of both a tentacle like structure protruding from the inner posterior margin of the spiracle and a caudal fin spine. The absence of a tail spine and the presence of a keel on the upper surface of the tail separates G. micrura from G. hirundo.

Coloration: Upper surface gray, brown, light green or purple with round spots. Lower surface white. The tail has three to four dark crossbars.

Feeding habits/specializations: fish, shrimp, crabs, copepods, prawns, bivalves

Reproduction: Exhibits ovoviparity (aplacental viviparity), with embryos feeding initially on yolk, then receiving additional nourishment from the mother by indirect absorption of uterine fluid enriched with mucus, fat or protein through specialized structures.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3-4 ft

Predators: larger fishes and marine mammals

Importance to humans: This species is caught in minor commercial fisheries and is occasionally used for food in French Guiana and possibly in other tropical localities. The wings may be taken for bait in crab or other fisheries.

Conservation status: data deficient

Fun fact: Does not possess a spine.


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Southern flounder

Scientific name: 
Paralichthys lethostigma

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal. Found mostly over mud bottoms in estuaries and coastal waters to about 40 m depth. A cryptic species; tolerates low salinities; occurs frequently in brackish bays and estuaries, even on occasion in fresh water; this species moves to deeper water in winter, but is still easily accessible.

Key characteristics for distinction: The bodies of southern flounders are greatly compressed, with both eyes on the left side of the head. The caudal fin is separate, and the pectoral fins are rudimentary or entirely absent; none of the fins have spines. The lateral line is straight and well-developed.

Coloration: brown body with diffuse, non-ocellated spots and blotches, blind side of body white or dusky.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds chiefly on fishes, also on crabs and shrimps. Juveniles take mainly small bottom-living invertebrates. Predatory, ambushing prey, using camouflage to blend into surrounding habitat; foraging occurs in tidal creeks and flooded salt marsh or at marsh edges.

Reproduction: Adult southern flounder leave the bays during the fall for spawning in the Gulf of Mexico. They spawn for the first time when two years old at depths of 50 to 100 feet. The eggs are buoyant. After hatching, the larval fish swim in an upright position and the eyes are located on opposite sides of the head. As the young fish grows, the right eye begins to "migrate" to the left side of the head. When body length of about one-half inch has been attained, the eye migration is complete and the fish assumes its left-side-up position for life.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 33 in

Predators: larger fish, seabirds, stingrays, sharks

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated (IUCN), conservation concerns: degradation and loss of tidal creek and estuary habitat; compromised water quality; potential for overfishing; lack of knowledge regarding spawning locations in some areas.

Fun fact: Both eyes in adults are on the "up" side of the head and the pigmentation of the upper side of the body can be varied to match the surrounding environment.


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Southern kingfish

Scientific name: 
Menticirrhus americanus

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal; oceanodromous. Inhabits coastal waters, usually over sandy-mud to hard sand bottoms. Common along beaches. Juveniles occur usually in water of lower salinity.

Key characteristics for distinction: Large head in proportion to its body and has barbels on chin.

Coloration: silvery-gray or tan, belly white; 7 – 8 faint dark bars on sides. Margins of fins often dark; pelvic, anal, and caudal fins often yellowish.

Feeding habits/specializations: Use chin barbel to locate bottom prey in estuaries and in the surf. Feed primarily on marine worms, crabs and shrimp. Larvae feed on zooplankton.

Reproduction: little data - Spawning takes place from June to November in the area of Delaware Bay

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 20 in

Predators: other larger fish

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated. Conservation concerns: degradation and loss of estuarine and nearshore habitat; potential for significant recreational harvest; potential for significant mortality as by-catch in southeast U.S. shrimp trawl fishery.

Fun facts: Also called Kingcroaker or Whiting




Scientific name: 
Leiostomus xanthurus

Habitat: shallow waters, often near pilings and jetties. Schools just below the water’s surface. Has been collected from all depths and bottom types. Juveniles often move into freshwater rivers.

Key characteristics for distinction: Deep notch in the dorsal fin. High, rounded back that slopes down to a small head. No teeth in the lower jaw. Forked tail fin.

Coloration: Bluish-gray body. A distinctive large, black spot near the gill opening. 12-15 dark, angled bars across the back. Brassy white belly. Pale fins

Feeding habits/specializations: bottom-feeder; bristle worms, mollusks, crustaceans, plant and animal detritus.

Reproduction: Spawns over the continental shelf from late September-March. After spawning, adults may stay offshore. Tiny larvae enter the Bay and move to freshwater shallows and tidal creeks, where they stay and grow throughout the summer.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 11-12 in

Predators: larger fish like red drum, bluefish, and striped bass

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Part of drum family which vibrates their swim bladder using special muscles to create a loud drumming or croaking sound.


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Spottail pinfish

Scientific name: 
Diplodus holbrooki

Habitat: Spottail pinfish are common to shallow waters (only as deep as 28m) near coasts, such as bays and harbors, though only rarely in brackish areas. They prefer flat, vegetated bottoms such as beds of sea grass. Marine; brackish; demersal.

Key characteristics for distinction: More round than the pinfish in overall shape. The name is derived from the presence of numerous spines on the front portion of the dorsal fin.

Coloration: Spottail pinfish are almost totally brown or grey in color, with a large, black spot on the distal end of the caudal peduncle. This is similar to other members of its genus, Diplodus annularis and Diplodus sargus -though D. sargus has several vertical bars that the Spottail pinfish does not.

Feeding habits/specializations: feed on a mixture of plants (such as Thalassia) and small invertebrates.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 18 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: minor commercial fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Also called Spottail seabream



Spotted sea trout

Scientific name: 
Cynoscion nebulosus

Habitat: demersal fish that is found in brackish to marine water. It has been observed in shallow coastal and estuarine waters over sandy bottoms and seagrass to depths of 33 feet (10 m). This euryhaline fish also resides in salt marshes and tidal pools of salinities up to 75‰ (parts per thousand). Spotted seatrout associate with seagrass beds, moving to deeper pockets of water in estuaries during the cooler months. They rarely migrate far from estuaries where they are spawned.

Key characteristics for distinction: The spotted seatrout has an elongate, somewhat compressed body with a slightly elevated back. The head is long with a pointed snout and large oblique mouth. The dorsal fin is continuous or slightly separate. The fins are scaleless with the exception of 1-10 rows of small scales at dorsal and anal fin bases. The lateral line extends onto the tail which is a characteristic of all Sciaenids. The spotted seatrout has a distinctive pattern of black spots scattered along the upper body and extending into the caudal and dorsal fins.

Coloration: The body of the spotted seatrout is silvery with irregular black spots on the upper half, from the dorsal to the caudal fin. The dorsal side is dark gray with bluish reflections while the ventral side is silvery to white. The dorsal fin is dusky while other fins pale are to yellowish in color. There is a black margin on the posterior edge of the caudal fin.

Feeding habits/specializations: Plankitvores when newly hatched, move to mysids, shrimp, fish and crustaceans as they grow. Adult spotted seatrout swim in small schools with incoming tides and move into shallow areas to feed. Seatrout are ambush predators, making short lunges to grab prey with their front canine teeth prior to swallowing it whole.

Reproduction: Spawning activity, controlled primarily by temperature and salinity, peaks in the spring and late summer within the Everglades region in Florida. Along the gulf coast of Florida, spawning occurs from late March to September with a peak during June through August. Unimodal or bimodal spawning activity peaks vary temporally and geographically. Spawning occurs during the nighttime hours and is signified by the croaking sounds made by males occurring one to two hours prior to sunset. Shallow bays and lagoons as well as deeper channels and depressions close in proximity to grass flats are utilized as spawning locations by the spotted seatrout. Spawning behavior includes a lot of jumping as well as side to side body contact among individuals.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 39 in

Predators: gar, striped bass, atlantic croaker, barracuda; seabirds, porpoises and sharks

Importance to humans: fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Landed seatrout often have "spaghetti" worms embedded in the flesh.



Striped bass

Scientific name: 
Morone saxatilis

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish; demersal; anadromous. Inhabit coastal waters and are commonly found in bays but may enter rivers in the spring to spawn. Some populations are landlocked.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dark, forked tail fin. Deep notch in dorsal fin. First part of dorsal fin has several spines. Three spines on anal fin.

Coloration: streamlined, silvery body marked with longitudinal dark stripes running from behind the gills to the base of the tail.

Feeding habits/specializations: Voracious and opportunistic feeder. Larvae feed on zooplankton; juveniles take in small shrimps and other crustaceans, annelid worms, and insects; adults feed on a wide variety of fishes (alewives, herring, smelt, eels, flounders, mummichogs, rock gunnels, sand lance, silver hake and silversides) and invertebrates (squid, crabs, sea worms and amphipods), mainly crustaceans. Feeding ceases shortly before spawning.

Reproduction: Striped bass spawn in fresh water, and although they have been successfully adapted to freshwater habitat, they naturally spend their adult lives in saltwater. Spawning occurs from April to early June in the Chesapeake Bay's tidal tributaries. During spawning season, several males court a single female, who lays her eggs in fresh or brackish water near the shore. After spawning, adults swim downstream to the Bay. Some continue on to the ocean. Eggs hatch in two to three days, after which larvae move slowly downstream.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 6 ft

Predators: humans (fishing), other larger fish, sharks

Importance to humans: sport fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: State Fish of Maryland, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.



Stripped burrfish

Scientific name: 
Chilomycterus schoepfii

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated. Common in seagrass beds in bays and coastal lagoons. Also found on shallow coastal reefs. Mostly solitary.

Key characteristics for distinction: covered with short, sharp spines. Short round body. No spines wholly on caudal peduncle. Supraocular tentacles absent or much smaller than eyes. 5 to 7 large dark blotches on back and sides, with many, approximately parallel to obliquely intersecting dark lines distributed over light background color. Strong parrot-like beak.

Coloration: yellowish-green in color with dark wavy stripes. Large dark spots at base of dorsal fin and above and behind pectoral fins.

Feeding habits/specializations: invertebrates like barnacles and hermit crabs; uses powerful beak-like jaws to crush and consume prey; sometimes eats prey whole.

Reproduction: Believed to spawn offshore at night; little is known.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 11 in

Predators: Fends off predators by puffing its body into a spiny ball.

Importance to humans: not commercial fished or sort after; often killed as by-catch in gill nets.

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: Burrfish are not very good swimmers. They move by squirting water out of their gill openings, which jets the fish forward.


Striped Mullet

Stripped mullet

Scientific name: 
Mugil cephalus

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish; benthopelagic; catadromous. Coastal species that often enters estuaries and freshwater environments. Adult mullet have been found in waters ranging from 0 ppt to 75 ppt salinity while juveniles can only tolerate such wide salinity ranges after they reach lengths of 1.6-2.8 inches (4-7 cm). Adults form huge schools near the surface over sandy or muddy bottoms and dense vegetation. There is a large dark blotch at the base of the pectoral fin. The pigmentation in the iris is dispersed and brown, a character that also helps to distinguish it from Mugil curema.

Key characteristics for distinction: The body of the striped mullet is subcylindrical and anteriorly compressed. It has a small, terminal mouth with inconspicuous teeth and a blunt nose. The lips are thin, with a bump at the tip of the lower lip. The adipose eyelid is prominent with only a narrow slit over the pupil. The body is elongate and the head is a slightly wider than deep. Pectoral fins are short, not reaching the first dorsal fin. The origin of the second dorsal fin is posterior to the origin of the anal fin. The lateral line is not visible.

Coloration: grayish olive to grayish brown, with olive-green or bluish tints and sides fading to silvery white towards the belly. Dark longitudinal lines, formed by dark spots at the center of each scale on the upper half of the body, run the length of the body.

Feeding habits/specializations: diurnal feeders, consuming mainly zooplankton, dead plant matter, and detritus. Mullet have thick-walled gizzard-like segments in their stomach along with a long gastrointestinal tract that enables them to feed on detritus.

Reproduction: spawn in saltwater yet spend most of their lives in freshwater. During the autumn and winter months, adult mullet migrate far offshore in large aggregations to spawn. Estimated fecundity of the striped mullet is 0.5 to 2.0 million eggs per female, depending upon the size of the individual. Hatching occurs about 48 hours after fertilization.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 47.2 in

Predators: fishes, birds, marine mammals.

Importance to humans: fishing/bait. Also used in Chinese medicinal practices. Important commercial fish.

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: Striped mullet leap out of the water frequently. This may be because the fish spend much time in areas that are low in dissolved oxygen. Leaping out of the water clears their gills and exposes them to higher levels of oxygen.


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Summer flounder

Scientific name: 
Paralichthys dentatus

Habitat: Marine; demersal; oceanodromous. Adults usually prefer hard sandy substrate where they can burrow; can exploit a broad range of lower and mid-estuary habitats including salt marsh creeks and seagrass beds, which usually have muddy or silty substrates, as well as sand flats. Occur in bays, lagoons and shallow coastal waters.

Key characteristics for distinction: long dorsal fin stretches from head to tail, flat rounded body, slightly pointed tail fin

Coloration: brownish on top and whitish on bottom, various large spots on the top side of body; camouflages itself

Feeding habits/specializations: The teeth are quite sharp and well developed on both upper and lower jaws. Adults are highly predatory and considered mostly piscivorous, often lying buried with only their head exposed to ambush prey which includes sand lance, menhaden, Atlantic silverside, mummichog killifish, small bluefish, porgies, squid, shrimp, and crabs. While primarily considered a bottom fish, they are rapid swimmers over short distances and can become very aggressive, feeding actively at mid-depths, even chasing prey to the surface.

Reproduction: Spawns in autumn and mid-winter in coastal ocean waters. After hatching, larvae have one eye on each side of the head. The right eye gradually travels to the left side of the head to a position next to the left eye.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 ft

Predators: conceals itself from predators by burying itself in bottom sediments and changing colors to blend in with its surroundings.

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: At hatching, one eye is located on each side of the brain. As it grows from larval to juvenile stage, one eye migrates to the other side of the body as a process of metamorphosis.


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Scientific name: 
Megalops atlanticus

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish; reef-associated; amphidromous. Primarily found in coastal waters, bays, estuaries, and mangrove-lined lagoons within tropical, subtropical, and temperate climates (45° N-30° S). The normal habitat depth extends to 98 feet (30 m). Although a marine fish, tarpon can tolerate euryhaline environments (0-47 parts per thousand) and often enter river mouths and bays and travel upstream into fresh water. In addition, tarpon can also tolerate oxygen-poor environments due to a modified air bladder that allows them to inhale atmospheric oxygen.

Key characteristics for distinction: Externally, the almost vertical, silvery sides made up of large scales are the most distinctive feature of the tarpon. The tarpon has a superior mouth with the lower mandible extending far beyond the gape. The fins contain no spines, but are all composed of softrays. The dorsal fin appears high anteriorly and contains 13-15 softrays with the last ray greatly elongated into a heavy filament. The caudal is deeply forked, and the lobes appear equal in length. The anterior portion of the anal fin is deep and triangular. The fin has 22-25 softrays, with the last ray again elongated as in the dorsal fin, but shorter and only present in adults. The tarpon has large pelvic fins, and long pectoral fins containing 13-14 softrays. Perhaps the most unique internal feature of the tarpon is the modified swim bladder. This swim bladder contains spongy alveolar tissue and has a duct leading to the esophagus that the tarpon may fill directly with air gulped from the surface. This feature allows the tarpon to take oxygen directly from the atmosphere and increases its tolerance of oxygen-poor waters. In fact, studies have shown that tarpon must have access to atmospheric oxygen in order to survive, and that juvenile tarpon are obligatory air-breathers. Adults living in oxygen-rich waters still roll and gulp air, probably as an imitative pattern based on visual perception of other tarpon.

Coloration: The synonym "silver king" refers to the predominant bright silver color along the sides and belly of the tarpon. Dorsally, tarpon usually appear dark blue to greenish-black. However, the color may appear brownish or brassy for individuals inhabiting inland waters. The dorsal and caudal fins have dusky margins and often appear dark.

Feeding habits/specializations: carnivorous, mid-water prey: fish, shrimp, crabs. Feeding day and night; usually swallow prey whole.

Reproduction: The fish typically spawn in May, June, and July, though evidence exists that suggests they spawn year-round. They make extensive migrations to offshore spawning areas where currents then move the larvae to inshore nurseries.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 8 ft

Predators: fishes, birds, sharks, porpoises.

Importance to humans: Commercial sale of Tarpon prohibited in Florida. Special tags required to catch Tarpon.

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

Fun fact: Also called the silver king; jumps into the air.




Scientific name: 
Tautoga onitis

Habitat: Marine; brackish; reef-associated. Found close to shore on hard-bottom habitats, occasionally entering brackish water. Adult male territorial and active during the day to feed and rests in crevices at night. Prefers temperatures above 10°C. Usually found around wrecks, reefs, rocks and pilings.

Key characteristics for distinction: Blunt head with greenish eyes and thick lips. Stout, rounded body.

Coloration: Varies in color from brown to grayish or black with irregular bars or blotches on the sides. Females and small males have a black chin. Some larger males have a white chin. Thick, squared tail fin.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mainly on mussels, gastropods, other mollusks and crustaceans.

Reproduction: Spawning was noted in June-July in Canadian waters, but appears more protracted (April-July) in coastal waters of Virginia, USA. Spawns from late April-early August in the lower Bay and offshore. The female lays about 200,000 eggs. After hatching, bright green tautog larvae drift for about three weeks before settling in shallow bay grass beds. In about 3 years, tautogs become sexually mature and lose their bright green coloring

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 ft

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: fishing managed closely due to conservation status.

Conservation status: Vulnerable; slow reproduction and growth.

Fun fact: When they are not feeding, tautogs are known to find a hole and lie motionless on their side. The fish are so inactive at night that sport divers have been able to catch them by hand.




Scientific name: 
Cynoscion regalis

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal; oceanodromous. Occurs usually in shallow coastal waters over sand and sandy mud bottoms. Juveniles are euryhaline. During summer the fish move to their nursery and feeding grounds in river estuaries. Lives in schools.

Key characteristics for distinction: Sleek body, deep notch in dorsal fin, squared tail fin, two large canine teeth in upper jaw.

Coloration: Dark, olive green back with iridescent blue, copper or green on sides; silvery white belly; small, dark spots on back that form irregular diagonal lines.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mainly on crustaceans and fishes. Once it sees its prey, will slowly move toward it then quickly lunge with open jaws.

Reproduction: Oviparous, with high fecundity. Spawns April-August, females produce more eggs as they get larger.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 ft

Predators: other predatory fish like bluefish and striped bass, sea lampreys, dusky sharks.

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Makes drumming or purring sound. Name Weakfish comes from fragile mouth which tears easily when hooked.



White perch

Scientific name: 
Morone americana

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish; demersal; anadromous. Occurs in fresh, brackish and coastal waters. Primarily found in brackish water but common in pools and other quiet water areas of medium to large rivers, usually over mud.

Key characteristics for distinction: Highly domed back, slightly projecting lower jaw, mildly forked tail, deep notch in dorsal fin – first part of dorsal fin as several spines. Three anal spines.

Coloration: Silvery, greenish-gray body; gray or blackish back, whitish belly. Faint lines on sides.

Feeding habits/specializations: small fish, insects, detritus and fish eggs/larvae

Reproduction: Semi-anadromous because it does not travel all the way from ocean to spawning grounds in freshwater rivers; begins spawning runs when water temperatures increase in late March.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 19.5 in

Predators: bluefish, weakfish, striped bass; humans

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial minor

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: A close relative of striped bass.


013-Winter_Flounder copy

Winter flounder

Scientific name: 
Pleuronectes americanus

Habitat: Marine; demersal; oceanodromous. Adults inhabit soft muddy to moderately hard bottoms.

Key characteristics for distinction: Flat elliptical body, small head and mouth located on right side of body. Distinct pectoral fin present just behind gill opening. Separate small pelvic fin present on belly.

Coloration: Color pattern of “dark side” can change depending on the color and pattern of surrounding substrate ranging from reddish brown to olive green to almost black. Underside is white

Feeding habits/specializations: Feed predominantly in daytime on organisms living in, on or near the bottom; shrimps, amphipods, crabs, sea urchins and snails. Can camouflage itself against passing prey.

Reproduction: Batch spawners. Occurs in nearshore and estuarine waters from late winter to early spring.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 25 in

Predators: Can hide from predators using camouflage. Common predators – sharks, oyster toadfish, summer flounder, striped bass, monkfish and spiny dogfish.

Importance to humans: commercial/fishing/experimental

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Differ from summer flounder based on where the location of the eyes/head. Can use its body shape to dig into the substrate to cover itself and hide.


White Grunt

White grunt

Scientific name: 
Haemulon plumieri

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated; depth range 3 - 40 m. Found in dense aggregations during the day on patch reefs, around coral formations, or on sandy bottoms.

Key characteristics for distinction: The body is moderately elongate, with an elevated and compressed back. The head is long with a sharp snout. Dorsal and anal fins of the white grunt are completely covered with scales. The caudal fin is forked and the pectoral fin long and falcate. Scales above the lateral line larger than scales located below the lateral line.

Coloration: Silvery white to cream-colored, the head is bronze to yellow dorsally while the ventral side of the head and belly is white. There is a series of dark blue stripes on the head, margined with yellow-bronze running back into the body. Each scale's margin is bronze and the posterior edge is often gray. Scale rows above the lateral line are larger than those below the lateral line. The spinous dorsal fin is chalky to yellowish-white, the soft dorsal, soft anal, and caudal fins are brownish gray. The pelvic fins are chalky, while the pectoral fins range from light yellow to chalky in color. A black blotch is located on the preopercle and the inside of the mouth is red. The color of this fish is changeable, with the fish appearing in a shade matching the immediate surroundings.

Feeding habits/specializations: The white grunt feeds nocturnally, migrating off the reefs to open sandy, muddy, or grassy areas. Typically moving off the reef shortly after sunset and returning to the reef just prior to sunrise, large white grunts are the first to leave and last the return. This fish is considered a generalized carnivore, scavenging benthic crustaceans, mollusks, echinoderms, and small fishes. Grunts have also been observed to feed on material attached to pilings near offshore platforms. The small juvenile grunts pick plankton, primarily copepods, from the water column during daylight hours.

Reproduction: Peak spawning occurs during much of the year with peaks occurring during May and June off Florida, August and September off Puerto Rico and in March and April off Jamaica. Spawns offshore, over hard bottoms or reefs.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 21 in

Predators: Snappers, groupers, lizardfishes, spanish mackerel, sharks and other large piscivores

Importance to humans: Reports of ciguatera poisoning. Fishing/commercial minor

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Frequently exhibits a territorial 'kissing' display in which two contenders push each other on the lips with their mouths wide open.