Bony Fishes

Class Osteichthyes

This class is comprised of the bony fish (osteo = “bone”), and has the most species in it of all the vertebrate classes.  Bony fishes have rays of gills on both sides of their head, which are covered by an operculum (“little door”) for protection.  This class of fish also has an air sac, or swim bladder, that allows them to control their buoyancy, meaning they can float in one spot without sinking.

Bony fishes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most follow a standard body plan regarding fin type and placement.  Some fish, like the flounder, may look completely different from a typical fish, but will still have the same fin types.  While our diagram below shows you a standard fish body plan, what we would like to highlight particularly is the function of each of the fins.Save

Diagram of Fish Labeling Parts

Dorsal fin:  aids in balance, keeping the fish upright
Caudal fin:  used for propulsion, to move the fish
Pectoral fin:  used for steering and maneuvering around objects
Pelvic fin:  helps fish go up and down, helps fish turn quickly
Anal fin:  works with the dorsal fin to aid in balance and stability

Bay anchovy O

Anchoa mitchilli

Characteristics:
Small fish with faint silver stripe down sides; out of the water, will usually be lacking scales; dorsal fin originates over the origin of the anal fin

Characteristics:
Small fish with faint silver stripe down sides; out of the water, will usually be lacking scales; dorsal fin originates over the origin of the anal fin
Range:
Atlantic coast of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico
Size:
Up to 4in (10cm) in length
Habitat:
Coastal ocean to the upper reaches of tidal creeks
Fun Fact:
Main source of nutrition for the endangered least tern
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Atlantic silverside O

Menidia menidia

Characteristics:
Looks similar to anchovy except smaller mouth; conspicuous silver stripe down side of body; pointed snout

Characteristics:
Looks similar to anchovy except smaller mouth; conspicuous silver stripe down side of body; pointed snout
Range:
Atlantic coast of the U.S.
Size:
Up to 5in (13cm) in length
Habitat:
Sandy shorelines, estuaries and tidal creeks
Fun Fact:
Sensitive to environmental changes, such as depleted oxygen; absence can be used as an indicator of poor water quality
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Striped killifish C

Fundulus majalis

Characteristics:

Silver sheen on sides; females with long stripes and a couple of bars near the tail; males have 15-20 bars

Characteristics:

Silver sheen on sides; females with long stripes and a couple of bars near the tail; males have 15-20 bars

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S.

Size:

Up to 6-7in (17cm) in length

Habitat:

Tidal creeks and beach shallows

Fun Fact:

Not as common as mummichog but also play a large role in estuary food webs, prey for most birds and fish in marsh

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Mummichog O

Fundulus heteroclitus

Characteristics:
Small brown-green fish with pale spots along the body; males are brighter with bars along the side

Characteristics:
Small brown-green fish with pale spots along the body; males are brighter with bars along the side
Range:
Gulf of St. Lawrence to Gulf Coast of Texas
Size:
Up to 6in (15cm) in length
Habitat:
Resident in tidal creeks, sometimes in freshwater
Fun Fact:
“mummichog” comes from an Indian word meaning “going in crowds,” referring to its common schooling behavior
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Atlantic croaker C

Micropogonias undulatus

Characteristics:

Silver with faint dark bars on sides; faint black spot above pectoral fin

Characteristics:

Silver with faint dark bars on sides; faint black spot above pectoral fin

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico

Size:

Up to 20in (51cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, tidal creeks to several miles offshore

Fun Fact:

Make a loud croaking sound by vibrating the swim bladder

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Black drum C

Pogonias cromis

Characteristics:

Deep-bodied, silver to dark gray with black tinted fins; lower jaw with barbels extending down; large scales

Characteristics:

Deep-bodied, silver to dark gray with black tinted fins; lower jaw with barbels extending down; large scales

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico

Size:

Averages 14in (36cm) in length

Habitat:

Live bottom in estuaries, rare in tidal creeks, beaches; often near hard structures such as jetties and docks

Fun Fact:

Use their barbels to sense for food along the bottom

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Red drum C

Sciaenops ocellatus

Characteristics:

Bronze or red colored with one or more dark spots near tail fin

Characteristics:

Bronze or red colored with one or more dark spots near tail fin

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico

Size:

Up to 4-5ft (1.5m) in length

Habitat:

Nearshore, estuaries, tidal creeks

Fun Fact:

Spot on the caudal fin is used to distract predators; most caught estuarine drum are sexually immature

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Silver perch C

Bairdiella chrysoura

Characteristics:
Silver body with yellow fins, anal fin has prominent spine; dorsal fin has a deep notch

Characteristics:
Silver body with yellow fins, anal fin has prominent spine; dorsal fin has a deep notch
Range:
NY to FL, the Gulf of Mexico
Size:
Up to 9in (23cm) in length
Habitat:
Shallow estuarine waters, primarily tidal creeks
Fun Fact:
will often make loud drumming sounds with their swim bladder when caught
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Southern kingfish C

Menticirrhus americanus

Characteristics:

Long, silver body with 7-8 bars on sides; fins yellow; small mouth with a single short barbel on chin

Characteristics:

Long, silver body with 7-8 bars on sides; fins yellow; small mouth with a single short barbel on chin

Range:

Cape Cod to northern Argentina

Size:

Averages 6-10in (15-25cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, along beaches and near mouths of rivers

Fun Fact:

Most abundant of three kingfish species in SC; not frequently seen in tidal creeks

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Spot C

Leiostomus xanthurus

Characteristics:

Silver-blue dorsal and silver-yellow ventral; 12-15 bars along sides; spot behind operculum, above pectoral fin

Characteristics:

Silver-blue dorsal and silver-yellow ventral; 12-15 bars along sides; spot behind operculum, above pectoral fin

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico

Size:

Up to 10in (25cm) in length

Habitat:

Shallow muddy bottoms of estuaries, tidal creeks, often around oyster reefs

Fun Fact:

Larvae develop offshore then move into the estuaries

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Spotted seatrout C

Cynoscion nebulosus

Characteristics:

Dark gray dorsally with black spots along the body; two large teeth on the tip of the upper jaw

Characteristics:

Dark gray dorsally with black spots along the body; two large teeth on the tip of the upper jaw

Range:

NY to the Gulf of Mexico

Size:

Up to 30in (76cm) in length

Habitat:

Inshore live bottom habitats in estuaries and tidal creeks

Fun Fact:

Delicate fish, care should be taken when returning unwanted fish to the water

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Pinfish O

Lagodon rhomboides

Characteristics:
Similar to spot; sharp dorsal and anal spines along fins; spot behind operculum; six bars run along the sides

Characteristics:
Similar to spot; sharp dorsal and anal spines along fins; spot behind operculum; six bars run along the sides
Range:
Atlantic coast of the U.S., Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, northern Cuba, and the Yucatan
Size:
Averages 7in (18cm) in length
Habitat:
Nearshore reefs, estuaries, tidal creeks
Fun Fact:
Consume both vegetation and animals
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Atlantic menhaden O

Brevoortia tyrannus

Characteristics:

Blue color with silver sides and forked tail; black spot behind operculum with several small spots near it

Characteristics:

Blue color with silver sides and forked tail; black spot behind operculum with several small spots near it

Range:

Nova Scotia to FL

Size:

Up to 15in (38cm) in length

Habitat:

Offshore along the continental shelf and in estuaries

Fun Fact:

Main source of nutrition for dolphins and large fish because of their high oil content; major component in fish meal

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Bay whiff C

Citharichthys spilopterus

Characteristics:

Flat body with both eyes on left side; spots are small, if present, and in no particular pattern

Characteristics:

Flat body with both eyes on left side; spots are small, if present, and in no particular pattern

Range:

NJ to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Antilles to Brazil

Size:

Up to 6in (15cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, sandy and muddy habitats

Fun Fact:

Mistaken for a juvenile flounder; can be identified by its straighter lateral line

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Blackcheek tonguefish C

Symphurus plagiusa

Characteristics:

Small flatfish with no obvious tail; posterior ends in a point; large dark spot on operculum

Characteristics:

Small flatfish with no obvious tail; posterior ends in a point; large dark spot on operculum

Range:

NY to the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas, and Cuba

Size:

Up to 7in (18cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, tidal creeks, primarily over soft mud

Fun Fact:

From head to the tail the tonguefish is smooth, but reverse directions and it becomes very rough

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Hogchoker C

Trinectes maculatus

Characteristics:

Small flatfish with round body; noticeable stripes; black bars along dorsal side; ventral side with light spots

Characteristics:

Small flatfish with round body; noticeable stripes; black bars along dorsal side; ventral side with light spots

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico

Size:

Up to 6in (15cm) in length

Habitat:

Shallow to deep estuarine waters over sand or mud

Fun Fact:

Name thought to come from farmers who would feed this to their hogs, which would often choke on them

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Southern flounder C

Paralichthys lethostigma

Characteristics:

Flat body with both eyes on left side; dorsal color varies with habitat; spots and blotches

Characteristics:

Flat body with both eyes on left side; dorsal color varies with habitat; spots and blotches

Range:

VA to FL and the Gulf of Mexico

Size:

Averages 15in (38cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, beach shallows, muddy bottom of tidal creeks

Fun Fact:

Most abundant flounder species in the Southeast; most return to the same estuaries after spawning offshore

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Summer flounder C

Paralichthys dentatus

Characteristics:

Flat body with both eyes on left side; dorsal color varies with habitat; five conspicuous spots

Characteristics:

Flat body with both eyes on left side; dorsal color varies with habitat; five conspicuous spots

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S.

Size:

Averages 15in (38cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries and tidal creeks over sand or mud

Fun Fact:

Flounder start off as typical fish larvae, with an eye on either side of the body, but transform into a flat fish

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Sheepshead C

Archosargus probatocephalus

Characteristics:

Body compressed laterally; gray with dark bars alongside the body

Characteristics:

Body compressed laterally; gray with dark bars alongside the body

Range:

Nova Scotia to Brazil

Size:

Up to 30in (76cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, tidal creeks, near hard structure such as docks

Fun Fact:

Hard mouth has several rows of stubby teeth which help the fish scrape prey off of structures and crush the shells

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Atlantic spadefish C

Chaetodipterus faber

Characteristics:

Silver-gray to yellowish; disc shaped body; 4-6 vertical black bars on sides; small mouth

Characteristics:

Silver-gray to yellowish; disc shaped body; 4-6 vertical black bars on sides; small mouth

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S., Gulf of Mexico, Southeast Brazil

Size:

12-18in (30-46cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, tidal creeks, hard bottoms like oyster reefs

Fun Fact:

Juveniles leave estuaries during fall and join adults in shallow offshore waters

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Striped burrfish C

Chilomycterus schoepfi

Characteristics:

Round yellowish body with dark, wavy stripes; head and body covered with short spines; dark spots at base of the dorsal fin and behind pectoral fins

Characteristics:

Round yellowish body with dark, wavy stripes; head and body covered with short spines; dark spots at base of the dorsal fin and behind pectoral fins

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S., and the Gulf of Mexico to Brazil

Size:

Up to 10in (25cm) in length

Habitat:

Seagrass beds, shallow reefs, tidal creeks

Fun Fact:

Puffs up its body into a spiny ball to avoid predators

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Oyster toadfish C

Opsanus tau

Characteristics:

Scaleless; brown with orange to yellow spotting; wide head; large mouth; many barbels; eyes on top of head

Characteristics:

Scaleless; brown with orange to yellow spotting; wide head; large mouth; many barbels; eyes on top of head

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S. to the West Indies

Size:

8-12in (20-30cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, tidal creeks, bottom-dwelling near oyster reef

Fun Fact:

Should be handled carefully, they have strong jaws and stiff spines in fins

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Striped mullet H

Mugil cephalus

Characteristics:

Slightly darker above, silver on sides, dark spot at base and stripes on side

Characteristics:

Slightly darker above, silver on sides, dark spot at base and stripes on side

Range:

Worldwide

Size:

Up to 3ft (1m) in length, usually less than 20in (50cm) in the Southeast

Habitat:

Estuaries, tidal creeks

Fun Fact:

Often jump out of the water, occasionally lands in boats

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White mullet O

Mugil curema

Characteristics:

Long silver body with dark dorsal coloring

Characteristics:

Long silver body with dark dorsal coloring

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S., Bermuda, Gulf of Mexico to Brazil, and from the Gulf of California to Chile

Size:

Up to 14in (36cm) in length

Habitat:

Estuaries, tidal creeks

Fun Fact:

Mullet are omnivorous but primarily get their nutrition from plankton, algae, and detritus

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