Hogchoker

Trinectes maculatus family

Achiridae taxonomy

Pleuronectes maculatus Bloch and Schneider, 1801, Tranquebar, India (in error).

other common names

French: Sole bavoche; German: Amerikanische Seezunge. physical characteristics

Small, oval, dextral flatfish that have a deep and thick body without a definite caudal peduncle. The dorsal and anal fins are free from the caudal fin, and the right pelvic fin is joined to the anal fin. A relatively small head, with the snout slightly overhanging the small, subterminal mouth. The eyes are small, flat, and separated by a small space. The dorsal fin originates at the tip of the snout. No pectoral fins. The lateral line is straight. The skin is very slimy with mucus. Scales are ctenoid and very rough on both sides of the body. The ocular side is slate-olive to dark brown, with numerous conspicuous, darker transverse crossbands. There is also a longitudinal stripe along the midregion and, occasionally, a number of darker, diffuse blotches scattered over the surface. The blind side is dirty white; some specimens have numerous irregularly rounded spots, varying in both size and number, scattered over the blind side. This species reaches lengths of about 7.9 in (20 cm), with most averaging about 2.4-5.9 in (6-15 cm). They live for about seven years. Females grow larger and live longer than males.

distribution

Western North Atlantic in marine, estuarine, and freshwaters along the Atlantic coast of North America from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico.

habitat

They occur most commonly on mud, sand, or silt bottoms in coastal bays and estuaries with brackish water. In larger estuaries, young (small) fish tend to be found in upper reaches of estuaries, sometimes at considerable distances upstream into freshwater portions of coastal rivers. Fish size generally increases with increasing distances down estuary. The largest hogchokers usually are found in the lower estuary and also on the inner continental shelf to about 82 ft (25 m) and rarely to about 246 ft (75 m). Able to withstand a considerable range of temperatures of about 34-95.2°F (1.1-35.1°C). Euryhaline (able to withstand a range of salinities), ranging in salinity from freshwater to about 50 ppt. Can tolerate low oxygen conditions for periods up to 10 days. Will move out of areas with extremely low oxygen levels.

behavior

Under laboratory conditions, hogchokers were active only during the dark period, with peak activities associated with times of slack tide in the natural habitat. Under continuous dim light, activity peaks coincided with slack tide, and fish were active in the diurnal as well as the nocturnal phase of the cycle.

feeding ecology and diet

Opportunistic, nocturnal feeders that eat a variety of small invertebrate prey, including amphipods, clam siphons, annelid worms, copepods, and small fishes. These fishes tend to macerate their food. Hogchokers are consumed by a variety of predators, including bull sharks, sandbar sharks, smooth dogfish, stingrays, striped bass, weakfish, bluefish, and cobia.

reproductive biology

Mature at two to four years old and at sizes as small as about 2 in (5 cm). Probably a serial spawner. Annual fecundity has not been estimated for this species. Batch fecundity varies with fish size. Small females, about 3.5 in (9 cm), produce about 11,000 eggs, and larger females, 4.3-6.3 in SL (11-16 cm SL), produce from 23,000 to 54,000 eggs. The spawning season is April to October, but eggs have been reported as early as January, and in the southern Gulf of Mexico spawning may occur year-round. Spawning takes place in estuaries between 6 P.M. and 10 P.M., when water temperatures reach 68-77°F (20-25°C). Hogchoker eggs are pelagic in high-salinity waters and demersal in lower-salinity waters. Hatching occurs about one to two days after spawning. Eye migration begins at about 0.2 in (5 mm), 34 days after hatching, and is completed when fish are about 0.7 in (18 mm).

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

Edible but noncommercial species of no interest to fisheries, owing to their small size. They sometimes are captured and sold to hobbyists in the aquarium fish trade. ♦

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