Snapper family species, their habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.
There are 125 snapper species are members of the Lutjanidae family. The Snappers, also known as pargos in Mexico, are mainly marine species but with some members rarely living in estuarine, and entering fresh water just to feed. This family of perch-like fishes is related to the grunts, and to the groupers, or sea-basses. They live in Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Some Snappers are important food fish and popular with fishermen. One of the best known is the Red Snapper.
Distribution: Most of the snappers are shallow reef species, found in the first 200 feet of the water column, although the juveniles inhabit mangrove estuaries. Most species are predators of fishes and crustaceans (crabs, shrimps, lobsters, stomatopods), mollusks (gastropods and cephalopods), and pelagic urochordates; plankton is very important in the diets with reduced dentition and numerous well-developed gill rakers. Their food habits vary as they roam the shore lines over a variety of bottom types dining mainly on small fishes. Snappers are found in the tropical and subtropical regions of all the oceans. They can grow to about a meter in length.
The snappers are members of a large family Lutjanidea of small to medium sized (to about 160 cm), warm water fishes with moderately compressed bodies. Most of the snappers can be recognized by their distinctive head profiles. They have moderately long snouts that are far below the eyes, terminal and fairly moderate to large mouths, and strong jaws with robust large canine-like sharp and unequal teeth, there are no incisiform or molariform teeth. Maxilla is covered by preorbital with the mouth closed. Pelvic fins originating just behind pectoral base.
They have 2 nostrils on each side of snout and there are no enlarged pores on chin. Specie’s vomer and palatines are with teeth. Ectopterygoid teeth present only in Yellowtail Snapper and Vermilion snapper. Their scales are moderate in size, ctenoid. Pelvic axillary scales usually rough, prominent and well developed. There is scale on cheek and operculum, maxilla with or without scales; snout, lachrymal, and lower jaw are naked.
They are highly variable in color: many species mainly red or reddish, others with violet, brown, or grey prominent; often with spots or lines. They have long life while grown very slow
All species of the family have a single slightly notched dorsal fin that is usually notched between the spines and soft parts, and sometimes there are deep notches between the spines. They normally have 10 or 12 dorsal spines (rarely 9, 11, or 13) and 10 to 14 (rarely 9 or 15) soft rays. The anal fins have 3 spines and 8 or 9 (rarely 7) soft rays. Caudal fin with 17 principal rays (9 in upper lobe and 8 in lower lobe). Pelvic fin with 1 spine and 5 soft rays is thoracic, inserted beneath pectoral fin. Their tail or caudal fins are slightly concave, almost straight.
All the snappers are gonochoristic (have separate sexes). They reach sexual maturity at about 40 to 50% of maximum length, with big females producing large numbers of eggs. They spawn throughout the summer, with peaks in spring and autumn; snappers are batch spawners, with individual females usually spawning several times during reproductive season. Spawning is apparently at night, on some occasions coinciding with spring tides. Eggs and larvae are pelagic; the larvae avoid surface waters during the day, but display a more even vertical distribution at night. Reproductively, most members of this family are nonguarders.
Key to the species of Lutjanus, Snappers:
1a. Dorsal fin with 10 spines and normally 12 (rarely 11 or 13) soft rays; a dark spot below anterior part of soft dorsal fin, usually persisting throughout life (occasionally absent in Lane Snapper).
1b. Dorsal fin usually with 10 spines and 14 soft rays, rarely 9 or 11 spines and 13 or 15 soft rays; dark spot below anterior part of soft dorsal fin present or absent.
2a. About 1/4 to 1/2 of dark lateral spot extending below lateral line; angle of preopercle with prominent, well-serrated posterior projection; gill rakers on first arch 7 or 8 on upper limb and 15 to 17 on lower limb (Mahogany Snapper).
2b. Less than 1/4 to none of dark lateral spot extending below lateral line in specimens larger than about 6 cm standard length; angle of preopercle without prominent posterior projection; gill rakers on first arch 6 or 7 on upper limb and 13 or 14 on lower limb, rarely 12 or 15 on lower limb (Lane Snapper).
3a. A large, pronounced black spot at base and in axil of pectoral fin; no dark spot below anterior part of soft dorsal fin; anal fin rounded; a dark area on scales at base of soft dorsal fin (not always obvious on preserved specimens); iris of eye golden yellow to orange in life (Blackfin Snapper).
3b. No large, pronounced black spot at base and in axil of pectoral fin; dark spot below anterior part of soft dorsal fin present or absent; anal fin rounded or angulated.
4a. Anal fin rounded at all sizes, the middle rays less than half length of head; no dark spot below anterior part of soft dorsal fin.
4b. Anal fin angulated in larger individuals, the middle rays elongated, the longest almost half to greater than half length of head (anal fin rounded in Mutton snapper less than about 4 cm standard length, in Red Snapper and Caribbean Red Snapper less than about 5 cm standard length, and in L. vivanus less than about 6 cm standard length); a dark spot below anterior part of soft dorsal fin, at least in young (this spot present in Mutton snapper to at least 46 cm standard length, but disappearing by about 20 to 30 cm standard length in Red Snapper, Caribbean Red Snapper, and Silk Snapper.
5a. Vomerine tooth patch without a distinct posterior extension on median line; upper and lower canines very strong, about equally developed; cheek scales in 8 to 10, usually 9, rows (Cubera Snapper).
5b. Vomerine tooth patch anchor-shaped, with a median posterior extension; upper canines much larger than lower; cheek scales in 6 to 9 (usually 7 or 8) rows.
6a. Pectoral-fin length about equal to distance from tip of snout to posterior edge of preopercle, 3.7 to 4.2 times in standard length; body comparatively slender, greatest depth 2.6 to 3.2, usually 2.7 to 3.1, times in standard length (Gray Snapper).
6b. Pectoral-fin longer than distance from tip of snout to posterior edge of preopercle, 3.0 to 3.5 times in standard length (in Schoolmaster Snapper of 7 to 10 cm standard length pectoral-fin length approximately equal to that of Gray Snapper of similar size); body comparatively deep, greatest depth 2.3 to 2.8, usually 2.4 to 2.7, times in standard length.
7a. Scales relatively large, transverse rows between upper edge of opercle and caudal-fin base 39 to 44, usually 40 to 43; lateral-line scales 40 to 45; scales above lateral line 5 to 7; no whitish bar below eye (Schoolmaster Snapper).
7b. Scales of moderate size, transverse rows between upper edge of opercle and caudal-fin base 45 to 49, usually 46 to 48; lateral-line scales 46 to 49; scales above lateral line 8 to 11; a rather diffuse whitish bar below eye, not obvious in all preserved specimens (Dog Snapper).
8a. Vomerine tooth patch without a distinct posterior extension on median line; soft rays in anal fin usually 8, rarely 7; spot below anterior part of soft dorsal fin relatively large in small individuals, small but distinct in large ones; iris of eye red in life (Mutton Snapper).
8b. Vomerine tooth patch triangular or anchor-shaped, with a median posterior extension; soft rays in anal fin 7 to 9, usually 8 or 9; spot below anterior part of soft dorsal fin present in young, diffuse or absent in adults.
9a. Soft rays in anal fin 9, rarely 8; rows of lateral scales 46 to 50, usually 47 to 49; scales above lateral line 7 to 10, usually 8 or 9; scales below lateral line 15 to 19, usually 16 or 17; sum of rows of lateral scales and scales above and below lateral line 69 to 75; iris of eye red in life (Red Snapper).
9b. Soft rays in anal fin 8, rarely 7 or 9; rows of lateral scales 49 to 53, usually 50 or 51; scales above lateral-line 9 to 12, usually 10 to 12; scales below lateral line 16 to 24, usually 17 to 23; sum of rows of lateral scales and scales above and below lateral line 76 to 88.
10a. Scales below lateral line 16 to 19; scales above lateral line 9 to 11, usually 10; sum of rows of lateral scales and scales above and below lateral line 76 to 82; iris of eye red in life (Caribbean Red Snapper).
10b. Scales below lateral line 20 to 24; scales above lateral line 10 to 12, usually 11 or 12; sum of rows of lateral scales and scales above and below lateral line 81 to 88; iris of eye bright yellow in life (Cubera Snapper).
The Yellowtail Snapper is a member of the Lutjanidae family of snapper, a colorful tropical reef fish, and an excellent sportfish with superb meat that is marketed fresh and frozen. This Snapper has a streamlined body that is olive or bluish gray above and silver to white below. It usually grows 1 to 2 feet long and commonly weight up to 3 pounds, rarely exceeds 5 lbs. Inhabiting tropical and subtropical coastal waters with depths of 10 to 300 feet, Yellowtail Snapper occur around coral reefs. One of the most popular and best eating of the snapper species, the yellowtail snapper, ranges as far north as the Treasure Coast but are in greatest abundance in the Bahamas and the Florida Keys. This fish is so versatile that it can be cooked in any number of ways and come out superbly delicious. Best fishing time is during days around the full moon, during summer months.
Mangrove snapper, or gray snapper, is hard-fighting member of the snapper family, a good game fish, one of the fiercest fighting fish in the ocean and an excellent food fish. It has very sweet, white, flaky meat, one of the testiest of the snapper family. Meat is easily filleted and marketed fresh or frozen. They can live to 25 years and reach 35 inches in length and a weight of 25 lbs, but rarely exceed 18 in (45 cm) in length, and is almost always less than 10 lbs (4.5 kg). Their color is dark brown or gray with reddish or orange spots in rows along the sides. During cold, winter water these fish going out to deep water or south to warmer water. The Gray Snapper is primarily caught by bottom fishing methods. Also can be caught offshore in mangrove- and sea-grass estuaries, using shrimp, clams and bloodworms.
The Red Snapper is one of the most valuable snapper for anglers and commercial fishermen. A member of Lutjanidae family of snapper, it is one of the most highly coveted of all reef fish and is almost always the most expensive fish per pound on the market. It is a good fighter that never gives up. Red Snapper has a great, medium firm texture and a sweet, nutty flavor. It is low in fat and a good source of vitamin B6, potassium and phosphorous. Snapper is a versatile fish that works well grilled, broiled, baked, poached and roasted or sautéed, it makes a tasty addition to stews and chowders. It is a reef bottom dweller usually found between 60 and 400 feet below the surface of the water. They travel in large schools and can be found in shallow waters during the spring. Red Snappers are aggressive predators who live off other fish, shrimp and squid that can be found along the rocky bottom of the warm coastal waters. Their upper body is dark red or golden; lower body light red or golden with white edges on scales.
Dog Snapper, Pacific Dog Snapper or Pacific Cubera Snapper is the largest of the snappers; growing to at least 80 lbs. Marketed fresh and frozen, this snapper is an excellent food fish and is greatly prized as a sport catch. This species is a strong fighter and a tough sportfish that can be caught on live baits, jigs, spoons, feathers, plugs, or pork ring fished of trolled. It is distinguished by its massive size, a wide body that varies from deep red to light red in color, with 8 or 9 bars on the upper half of its sides and a silvery color on its bottom. The dog snapper has 4 uncommonly large canine teeth (2 in the upper jaw and 2 in lower), one pair of which can be seen when the jaw is closed. These canine teeth give the dog snapper a fierce look, hence its common name.
The Schoolmaster Snapper has a robust slightly compressed moderately deep body, with a pointed head and large mouth. Its color varies from silvery to bronze. Fins and tails are yellow and some blue stripes are on the snout. This fish is an excellent fighter and can be caught on shrimp, cut ballyhoo, cut mullet, sea-crawfish or anchovies. They can grow up to 8 pounds, 24 inches in length (62 cm), commonly to 35 cm. Lives in groups of dozens of subjects. They spawn from July to August; slow grower; feeds on crustaceans, small fishes, and gastropods. The Schoolmaster Snapper considered as a good food fish and is marketed fresh and frozen.
The Blackfin snappers are medium sized (maximum total length to at least 66 cm, commonly to 50 cm), fishes with moderately compressed bodies. Their color on a back and upper sides is scarlet red to orange; lower sides and belly silvery to reddish; iris of the eyes is yellow to golden yellow to orange. A large prominent distinct black spot is at the base and in axil of pectoral fins. The blackfin snapper is a carnivorous predator, feeding near the bottom of the ocean. It is an opportunistic feeder, preying on any small fish within range, crustaceans, cephalopods, and tunicates.
Lane snapper is a marine fish from family Snappers, found mainly in turbid or clear water around coral reefs and on vegetated sandy areas. Often forms large aggregations, especially during the spawning season. They feed mostly at night on small fishes, bottom-living crabs, shrimps, worms, gastropods and cephalopods. The lane snapper has a fairly deep body with a pointed snout. It has a double dorsal fin, with a rounded anal fin and relatively short pectoral fins. The caudal fin is emarginated to slightly forked. They are considered as a very good food fish.
The Cubera Snapper have elongate, comparatively slender body that is not very deep. The head, body, and fins are silver or steely gray to dark brown with an occasional reddish tinge; the body is darker above than below, sometimes with a purplish sheen. The largest of all the snapper and a member of the Lutjanidae family, the Cubera is a hard-fighting gamefish as well as a fine food fish. They commonly weights up to 40 lbs (18 kg) and reaching lengths of 3 feet (90 cm), it can weight more than 100 lbs and reach lengths of 5 feet (6 m ) in length. This snapper is easily the largest snapper occurring in the Atlantic Ocean.
The mutton snapper has deep and compressed body with an almost lunate-shaped tail; dorsum is elevated with a steep straight profile to tip of snout. Mutton snappers are very colorful. There are two color phases, usually barred when resting activities, becoming almost uniformly colored when fish is in swimming activity. Their back and upper sides are olive green, lower sides and belly whitish with red tinge. This may very well be the best eating snapper of all. They have a fantastic texture to the meat with high fat content that gives the incredible taste. They bite best in the morning between March and May. Muttons can be caught from the edge of the flats out to almost 300 feet of water.
The Mahogany Snapper has a relatively deep body with a pointed snout and large eyes. Its belly runs straight from the mouth to the rounded anal fin. This snapper has an average length of 15 inches (38 cm), with a maximum length of 19 inches (48 cm). Their color is grayish-olive with a reddish tinge; conspicuous dark spot, about the size of the eye. A species of clear shallow waters; found most commonly over rocky bottoms and coral reefs, also observed on sandy and grass bottoms. Often forms sizeable schools. Feeds on fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods. Reported to spawn in August in the northeastern Caribbean Sea.