Taxonomy

Sphyraena barracuda (Walbaum, 1792), West Indies.

Xiphias gladius Sphyraena barracuda other common names

French: Barracuda; Spanish: Picuda barracuda.

physical characteristics

Twenty-four vertebrae. Reaches 79 in (200 cm), commonly to 51 (130 cm). Body elongate and slightly compressed. Head large with a long, pointed snout. Mouth large, tip of maxilla reaching to or extending beyond anterior margin of the eye in adults. Lower jaw projecting beyond upper jaw without a fleshy tip. Strong, pointed vertical teeth of unequal sizes in both jaws and in roof of mouth. Two dorsal fins, far apart, the first with five strong spines, its origin slightly behind pelvic fin origin. Tip of adpressed pectoral fin reaching to or extending beyond pelvic fin origin. Gill rakers are absent. Lateral line well developed, straight, with 80-90 scales. Deep green to steel gray above, sides silvery, abruptly becoming white on ventral surface. Adults have several oblique dark bars, usually 18-22, on upper sides and usually have several to many scattered inky blotches on posterior part of lower sides.

distribution

Worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters except eastern Pacific Ocean.

habitat

Small individuals are mostly found in shallow waters over sandy and weedy bottoms, often forming schools. Adults usually are solitary dwellers of reef areas and offshore areas.

behavior

The fearsome appearance of barracudas combined with voracious feeding behavior and a notable curiosity toward divers has made them one of the most familiar families of marine fishes.

feeding ecology and diet

Voracious predators of small fishes, squid, and crustaceans.

reproductive biology

Most males mature at two years and all are mature by three years. Some females mature at three years and all are mature at four. The spawning season is from April through October off southern Florida. Females contain 500,000 to 700,000 mature eggs at one time but spawn several times in a season.

conservation status Not threatened.

significance to humans

Unprovoked attacks on humans have been documented, but they are very rare, and most have occurred because the swimmer was carrying or wearing a silvery, bright object, which a barracuda misidentifies as prey. Human consumption of large individuals may cause ciguatera, a kind of fish poisoning. The toxicity of barracuda flesh is related to the food habits of larger barracuda, which accumulate in their flesh toxin from their prey. There is good evidence that the source of the toxin is a dinoflagellate. Barracuda are not targets of a directed fishery but are caught with hand lines, trolling gear, bottom trawls, gill nets, and trammel nets. Catch data are not reported to the FAO by species; all species of the genus are combined. Marketed fresh and salted. There is a tie for all-tackle game fish record between an 85-lb (38.5-kg) fish from Christmas Island, Kiribati, and one from the Philippines. ♦

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