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Tips in identifying the searobins (Scorpaeniformes: Triglidae) along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida

Searobins are small to medium-sized benthic fishes (to 45 cm total length) that are common along Florida’s coastlines.  Although they are not targeted in commercial or recreational fisheries, searobins are captured in bottom trawls intended for shrimp or captured during epifaunal research surveys.  Searobins are important members of the benthic community and can amount to considerable biomass in some areas of Florida.  There are a total of 15 species within the family Triglidae in Florida waters.  First, one needs to determine which of the two genera his or her specimen belongs:

Bellator versus Prionotus

The genus Bellator can be distinguished from Prionotus by the absence of scales on the opercular membrane above the opercular spine.  There are usually 11 dorsal spines (rarely 10 or 12).  The first or second dorsal spines of males of Bellator species often end in long filaments (except in B. brachychir) (Richards and Miller 2002).  Also, species of the genus Bellator are relatively small (less than 17 cm standard length) (Richards and Miller 2002).  Finally, species of the genus Bellator are not normally found in inshore waters below about 20 m depth such as shallow bays, inlets, or estuaries.

In contrast to Bellator, the genus Prionotus never has a long, filamentous second dorsal spine.  Also, the dorsal spines usually number 10 (rarely 9 or 11) in Prionotus, and the opercular membrane is partially scaled above the opercular spine (Richards and Miller 2002).  Species of the genus Prionotus are often found in inshore waters, including bays and inlets.

See below for determining species within each genus.

Bellator Species

If you determined that your specimen falls within the genus Bellator, use the following table to help narrow down the possible species by geographic range or depth in Florida waters.

 searobinstable1

Bellator Morphological Characters by Species

The following characters are based on Richards and Miller (2002).

Bellator brachychir

  • No filamentous dorsal spine present
  • First free pectoral fin ray considerably longer than length of pectoral fins
  • Usually less than 11 cm standard length (maximum size is 16 cm)

Bellator egretta

  • Males with elongate filament extending from the first dorsal spine
  • Head very spiny, including sharp spine in front of eye, and long opercular and preopercular spines
  • First free pectoral fin rays shorter than length of pectoral fins
  • Usually less than 10 cm standard length (maximum size is 15 cm)
  • Alternating light and dark pigment appearing as brown patches or bands on upper one or two pectoral fin rays

Bellator militaris

  • Males with elongate filaments extending from the first and second dorsal spines
  • Dorsal-most pectoral fin rays marked with black and white bands
  • No dark ventral margin on pectoral fin
  • Colors in life are rosy with yellow lines along mid-body extending to caudal fin
  • Usually less than 11 cm standard length (maximum size is 16 cm)

Prionotus Species

If you determined that your specimen falls within the genus Prionotus, use the following table to help narrow down the possible species by geographic range or depth in Florida waters.

searobinstable2

Prionotus Morphological Characters by Species

The following characters are based primarily on Richards and Miller (2002), McEachran and Fechhelm (2005).

Prionotus alatus

  • Lower pectoral fin rays very long, reaching past the posterior margin of anal fin
  • Pectoral fins with black bands
  • Small nasal spines present (can be detected by running finger along snout region towards snout tip)
  • Maximum size is 20 cm standard length
  • Reported to hybridize with P. paralatus between Gulfport and Panama City

Prionotus carolinus

  • Branchiostegal rays dark (dusky or black)
  • Pectoral fins attractively patterned throughout with spots in fresh specimens (see following figure)
  • Dorsal fin with a single dark non-ocellated spot between 4th and 5th spines
  • Can be distinguished from P. scitulus by the dark dorsal spine mentioned above
  • Can be distinguished from P. martis by the dark dorsal spine and by range
  • Caudal peduncle with white blotch on dorsal side
  • Maximum size is 38 cm standard length

Searobins1

Prionotus evolans

  • Nasal spines are absent
  • Pectoral fins dark (patterned with very narrow, closely spaced, dark lines) (see following figure)
  • Pectoral fins long, reaching posterior portion of anal fin
  • Two distinct thin dark stripes along sides to caudal peduncle, contrasting with light background color
  • Maximum size is 45 cm standard length (1.55 kg all-tackle record)

 searobins 2

Prionotus longispinosus

  • Branchiostegal rays very light-colored (whitish)
  • Pectoral fins with small light-colored spots
  • Caudal peduncle without a light-colored blotch on dorsal side
  • Maximum size is 35 cm standard length

Prionotus martis

  • Throat (gular area) is completely scaled
  • Branchiostegal rays are dark (dusky or black)
  • Gill rakers on lower limb of first arch usually 9 (range = 8–11)
  • Dorsal fin with two distinct dark spots between 1st and 2nd, and 4th and 5th spines (see following figure)
  • Body heavily spotted
  • Small sized (maximum size is 18 cm standard length)

Prionotus ophryas

  • Nasal cirri are present
  • Preopercular spine long, reaching beyond posterior edge of operculum
  • Pectoral fins very long, reaching well beyond posterior edge of anal fin
  • Pectoral fins rounded
  • Body color is variable, but not silvery
  • Usually in 18–64 m depth
  • Small sized (maximum size is 20 cm standard length)

Prionotus paralatus

  • Nasal spines are absent
  • Preopercular spine is long, reaching just beyond operculum
  • Pectoral fins with dark spots and some scattered pinkish coloration throughout
  • Reported to hybridize with P. alatus between Gulfport and Panama City
  • Most abundant in 60–120 m depths
  • Small sized (maximum size is 18 cm standard length)

Prionotus roseus

  • Pectoral fins long, reaching or approaching the posterior edge of anal fin
  • Dorsal free ray of pectoral fins short, not reaching posterior edge of pelvic fins
  • Pectoral fins with bright blue or dark ocellated spots throughout (sometimes not ocellated)
  • Pectoral fins with dark ventral edge (edge not blue)
  • Small sized (maximum size is 20 cm standard length)

Prionotus rubio

  • Nasal spines are absent
  • Pectoral fins long, lowermost rays reaching beyond the posterior edge of anal fin
  • Pectoral fins uniformly very dark (blackish) with distinct blue margin on ventral edge (see following figure)
  • Small sized (maximum size is 23 cm standard length)

searobins3

Prionotus scitulus

  • Throat (gular area) is completely without scales
  • Branchiostegal rays light-colored (whitish), never dusky or black
  • Gill rakers on lower limb of first arch usually 11 (range = 10–13)
  • Dorsal fin with two distinct dark spots between 1st and 2nd, and 4th and 5th spines (see following figure)
  • Body spotted throughout
  • Maximum size is 25 cm standard length
  • Often found in shallow bays

 searobins4

Prionotus stearnsi

  • Mouth with small bony knob on ventral side at symphysis
  • Throat (gular area) completely scaled
  • Pectoral fins relatively short (not reaching beyond origin of anal fin)
  • Pectoral fins very dark (blackish)
  • Trunk light colored (silvery)
  • Small sized (maximum size is 18 cm standard length)

Prionotus tribulus

  • Head is large and broad
  • Total gill rakers on first arch usually 8–16
  • Pectoral fin with broad, dark vertical bands (may be narrow in Gulf of Mexico specimens)
  • Maximum size is 35 cm standard length

Sources Cited:

Hastings, R.W.  1979.  The origin and seasonality of the fish fauna on a new jetty in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico.  Bulletin of the Florida State Museum, Biological Sciences 24(1):1–124.

McEachran, J.D. and J.D. Fechhelm.  2005.  Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, Volume 2: Scorpaeniformes to Tetraodontiformes.  University of Texas Press, Austin, TX.

Richards, W.J. and G.C. Miller.  2002.  Searobins.  Pp. 1266–1277.  In:  Carpenter, K.E. (ed.), FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes:  The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Atlantic.  Vol. 2:  Bony Fishes Part 1 (Acipenseridae to Grammatidae).  FAO, Rome, Italy.

Robins, C.R. and G.C. Ray.  1986.  A Field Guide to Atlantic Coast Fishes of North America.  Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, NY.

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