Floridian Nature

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Florida Fish: Drum Fish
atlantic croaker saltwater florida fishAtlantic Croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) Atlantic croaker "croak" by vibrating their swim bladders with special muscles as part of their spawning ritual. A swim bladder is a pocket full of air inside the fish that helps keep it afloat and facing upright. Atlantic croaker are about 12 inches  long and weigh 1/2 to 2 pounds  on average. Its distinguishing characteristics include three to five pairs of small barbels or "whiskers" on their chins to help them feel for food on the sea floor; a lateral line that extends to the tip of its caudal (tail) fin; inferior mouth (located to the bottom of the head facing the ground), and brown vertical stripes on its sides. Adults are silver with a pinkish cast, while young are silvery and iridescent. Older fish are brassy in color with vertical brown streaks formed by spots that are on their scales. The Atlantic croaker is found on the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts southward and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Atlantic croaker prefer estuaries and bays through the spring and summer, then travel offshore in the fall to breed. Atlantic croaker can live up to eight years. Their predators include striped bass, shark, spotted seatrout, other croakers, and humans. Croaker that live in the northern part of their range mature later and live longer than those in the southern part of their range.

Black Drum (Pogonias cromis)  The black drum is found off the Atlantic coast of Florida and also in the Gulf of Mexico up to Tampa Bay especially in bays and lagoons. The black drum is the largest of the drum family and has a high arched back with large scales. One of its distinctive features is the 10 to 14 pairs of chin barbells. The adult black drum has a gray or black colored body while juveniles have 4 to 6 vertical bars along their body. The juvenile fish are often mistaken for the similar looking red drum,  sheepshead,  and the spadefish. One of the attributes that black drum has in its armory is its cobblestone-like teeth capable of crushing oysters. Juveniles normally reach 12 inches after the first year and grow at a rate of about 2 inches per year. It is not uncommon for these fish to reach 30 pounds and live to an age of 35 years or more although some have been found weighing 90 pounds. The younger black drum prefer brackish waters and is often found inshore and is quite common in bays and lagoons where they like habitats of structure and protection. Older black drum move out to the saltier waters of estuaries offshore. Black drum are bottom dwellers and with its powerful jaws and teeth it is often found around oyster beds. Being a bottom dweller it will feed on oysters, mussels, crabs, shrimp, and occasionally fish. Being the largest member of the drum family, black drum spawns near the shore in winter and early spring.




Red Drum (redfish) (Sciaenops ocellatus)  The red drum is known under many common names such as channel bass, redfish, spottail bass or simply as reds. The red drum is characterized by its reddish to bronzed body which becomes white on the lower part of the body. A very distinguishing feature is the one dark spot it has on the upper part of its tail hence the common name spottail bass. Scientists have come to the conclusion that the black spot near the tail is there to fool predators into believing that is the fish’s head thus giving the fish the opportunity to escape when attacked. It has a sloping head and rounded beak. The most common around the coast are the juveniles which weigh 6 – 8 pounds after just 3 years of growth and at majority they are seen weighing over 90 pounds. Red drum are an inshore species until they attain roughly 30 inches (4 years), then they migrate to join the nearshore population. Red Drum are usually found along the coastal waters of Florida with the juvenile fish hugging the coast line inhabiting the bays and coastal marshes for protection, feeding on crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs, or small fish such as minnows. It also takes small fish, especially mullet. The Redfish is a super-challenging opponent on the grass beds and flats of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. The shallower the water, the more thrilling the fight. The bulk of small marine life and food will be found in shallow water around structures and near grassy cover. This offers the small fish, crustaceans and mollusks protection from predators. Therefore, Redfish will be found near this abundant food supply.

Florida salt water sand seatroutSand Seatrout (Cynoscion arenarius) This is an elongated fish with a mouthful of teeth. Usually 1 or 2 extra-large teeth are located in the front of the upper jaw. The body of the sand seatrout is silver, with a yellow cast above and the fins are yellowish. When sand seatrout grow larger than a pound, they develop a beautiful iridescent lavender cast on their heads and the front part of their bodies. Sand seatrout eat fishes and shrimp. They are rated as the number one shrimp predator in the Gulf of Mexico. Sand seatrout are found Gulf wide, from bay and estuarine waters to offshore waters 300 feet deep. Larger fish are more common in offshore waters of moderate depths and in deep holes inshore. It prefers sand or mud bottoms. In the Gulf of Mexico, the fish is least common in southern Florida. Seasonally, large sand seatrout will congregate at offshore oil and gas platforms in moderately shallow water depths. They usually average under 1 pound in bays and estuaries, but fish of 3-5 pounds can be caught in deep inshore holes and in offshore waters.
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