Tarpon are a long, silver fish that can be found in coastal waters, bays, estuaries, mangrove-lined lagoons and rivers throughout the Atlantic. This species can tolerate a variety of environments and often travels upstream into fresh water. During the day, tarpon swim in schools, and the same large groups can be found in the same area for years.
  • Size

    8 feet (2.5 m)
  • Diet

    Fish and larger invertebrates, such as shrimp and crabs
  • Range

    Atlantic, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and in the Eastern Central Pacific near the terminus of the Panama Canal
  • Habitat

    Coastal waters, bays, estuaries and mangrove-lined lagoons and rivers

Physical Characteristics

Size

  • Maximum length of more than 8 feet (2.5 m). Maximum weight of 355 lbs. (161 kg).

Body Composition

  • Elongated, laterally compressed body, with enormous upturned mouth. Body covered with large scales. Resembles a large herring-like fish.

Color

  • Coloration is blue-grey on the back and bright silver on the sides and belly.

 

Animal Fact

The tarpon’s large scales are used in ornamental art and in preparing artificial pearls

Diet / Feeding

  • Diet consists of fish and larger invertebrates, such as shrimp and crabs. Feeds mostly on mid-water prey including mullet, pinfish, needlefish, sardines and anchovies.
  • Larval and small juvenile stages consume zooplankton, insects and small fish.

Range / Habitat

Range

  • Occurs in the warm waters of the Atlantic, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and in the Eastern Central Pacific near the terminus of the Panama Canal.
  • In the Western Atlantic, occurs from North Carolina to Bahia, Brazil and occasionally north to Nova Scotia and south to Argentina.
  • In the Eastern Atlantic, occurs from Senegal to Angola and off the coasts of Portugal and Southern France.

Habitat

  • Found in coastal waters, bays, estuaries and mangrove-lined lagoons and rivers at depths to 98 feet (30 m). Often enters river mouths and bays and travels upstream into fresh water.

Reproduction & Growth

Reproduction

  • Females are very fertile: it is believed that a 6.6-foot (203-cm) female can produce over 12 million eggs. Spawning takes place in open water.

Growth

  • Eggs hatch at sea and drift as transparent, ribbon-like larvae on ocean currents, eventually ending up in estuarine waters. Returns to the sea as a juvenile.
  • Larva resembles that of the bonefishes and eels, indicating a close evolutionary relationship.

Conservation Status

  • “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • Feeds both during the day and at night.
  • Can tolerate a variety of environments and often travels upstream into fresh water. Can survive in oxygen-poor environments due to its modified air bladder, which is connected to the esophagus and can be filled directly with air. Large individuals can often be seen rolling at the surface of the water as they gulp air.
  • Swims in schools during the day; the same large groups can be found in the same area for years.
  • Highly regarded as a sport fish, because of its strength, stamina and fighting ability; makes impressive leaps when hooked.
  • One of Florida’s premier game fish, but cannot be fished commercially. Most recreational anglers practice catch-and-release. A special tag must be purchased from the State to keep the fish as a trophy.
  • Large scales are used in ornamental art and in preparing artificial pearls.
  • Has been identified in fossil records dating back some 135 million years ago to the Upper Cretaceous Period.

Sources

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