Yellowfin grouper can be found throughout the western Atlantic Ocean, from the north and east coasts of South America (as far south as Sao Paulo, Brazil) to the east coast of Central America, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as the southern coast of Florida. They are also found in the waters surrounding Bermuda. (Brule and Garcia-Moliner, 2004; Cushion, et al., 2008)
Juvenile yellowfin grouper frequent shallow turtle grass beds, while adults may be found out to the continental shelf break. Longline catches of adults around Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands show that adults can frequent depths of up to 198 m; adults are regularly found in waters from 2-137 m deep, and are most common at depths of 5-35 m. Yellowfin grouper are considered a “secretive” species, as their habitat is thought to be dictated by their need for shelter as opposed to the availability of prey. As adults, they prefer areas that offer this shelter, such as offshore reefs, irregular rock formations, and sunken shipwrecks. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Brule and Garcia-Moliner, 2004; Luna and Pablico, 2012)
- Range depth
- 198 to 2 m
- 649.61 to 6.56 ft
Yellowfin grouper have a fusiform (cylindrical and tapering) body shape, and are strong and agile swimmers. Their body coloration is highly variable, as these fish are able to use chromatophores to rapidly change color and shade in response to their environments. Most typically, they are a pale olive green to brown, but may range to gray or even black. Specimens taken from depths exceeding 35 m are often red in color, with darker red blotches; body color is usually more brownish in specimens inhabiting shallower waters. Coloration change, from lighter or reddish to a darker, more drab color, tends to occur as a fish ages and moves to deeper water. Other changes in coloration observed include a dark phase, in which the fish is completely dark with no blotches (also observed when a fish is hiding); a bicolor phase,in which the fish is dark gray dorsally, contrasting with a light ventral coloration; and a white-headed phase, seen during interactions with conspecifics, including during breeding. Yellowfin grouper have distinctive dark blotches in oval-shaped groups on their heads and bodies, wide, brilliant yellow margins on their pectoral fins, and yellow-edged mouths. Their bellies are pink in color. The caudal fin is slightly truncated. The dorsal fin has 11 spines and 15-16 rays. Indivduals up to 100 cm have been found, although average lengths are around 50 cm. The maximum recorded weight for this species is 18.5 kg. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Luna and Pablico, 2012; Schärer, et al., 2012)
Males are larger than females and are distinguished by a yellow blotch on either side of the lower jaw. Females have a reddish lower jaw. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007)
- Sexual Dimorphism
- male larger
- sexes colored or patterned differently
- Range mass
- 18.5 (high) kg
- 40.75 (high) lb
- Range length
- 46 to 100 cm
- 18.11 to 39.37 in
Gametogenesis is discontinuous and asynchronous; different sizes and stages of eggs are carried and released at a time. Eggs and larvae are planktonic and larvae settle anywhere from one week to two or three months after hatching. Fry are red with light blotches that become darker as they age. ("Synoptic review of snappers, groupers and porgies of the Gulf of Mexico", 1986; Brule and Garcia-Moliner, 2004)
- Development - Life Cycle
- indeterminate growth
Yellowfin grouper form spawning aggregations. The size of these groups varies depending on locality, with groups of anywhere from 2-4 individuals to hundreds. Breeding is promiscuous. Males with the white-headed color phase display to females, first positioning themselves alongside them, then turning 90° sharply above them, while twitching their bodies. Males also produce low frequency sounds in uniform pulses and variable pulse calls, to induce females to spawn. (Cushion, et al., 2008; Schärer, et al., 2012)
- Mating System
- polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Yellowfin grouper are protogynous hermaphrodites, changing sex from female to male upon reaching approximately 65 cm in length (approximately 8-9 years of age). Sex change may be also cued by social interactions. Males in the Florida Keys are reported to reach maturity at approiximately 54 cm in length, while females off the coast of Cuba reportedly reach maturity at 51 cm. Estimated fecundity for a female yellowfin grouper at 51 cm in length is 1,425,443 eggs. ("A brief review of grouper reproductive biology and implications for management of the Gulf of Mexico gag grouper fisheries", 1999; "Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Cushion, et al., 2008; Cushion, 2006)
Yellowfin grouper breed annually, with females releasing eggs at a variety of developmental stages and sizes in up to 7-8 batches when in a spawning aggregation. Spawning is thought to be linked to lunar cycles. Breeding season varies by location and typically lasts 3 months. In the Bahamas, the spawning season is January through March, beginning during a full moon and continuing for 12-14 days each month when the water is coldest. In southern regions, the season changes accordingly, e.g. from June to August in the waters off of Sao Paolo, Brazil. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Cushion, 2006)
- Key Reproductive Features
- seasonal breeding
- gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
- sequential hermaphrodite
- broadcast (group) spawning
- Breeding interval
- Yellowfin grouper release gametes multiple times over an annual breeding season.
- Breeding season
- Breeding occurs during the winter months.
- Average number of offspring
- 1.4 million
- Average time to hatching
- 24 hours
- Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
- 4 years
- Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
- 8 to 9 years
No parental investment has been documented in this species. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007)
- Parental Investment
- no parental involvement
Maximum lifespan has been estimated at 15 years in the wild. The population doubling time for this species is estimated at 4.5-14 years. There is no information on lifespan in captivity currently available. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Brule and Garcia-Moliner, 2004; Cushion, 2006)
- Range lifespan
- 15 (high) years
- Range lifespan
- Typical lifespan
- 12 to 15 years
- Typical lifespan
- Typical lifespan
- n/a (high) hours
- Typical lifespan
This species has the ability to change body color when changing habitat. Except for congregating to spawn, groupers are solitary and do not socialize. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007)
Yellowfin groupers aggregate at breeding sites. One of the primary aggregation sites is the Grammanik Bank, a narrow shelf (100 m in length) at a depth of 25 m, located south of St. Thomas, USVI. ("Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Comprehensive Annual Catch Limit Amendment for the South Atlantic; Final Rule", 2012; Bullard, et al., 2011; Cushion, 2006)
Whether this species maintains a well-defined home range or territory is unknown.
Communication and Perception
Yellowfin grouper communicate reproductive readiness using visual color variation cues and sounds. These fish have lateral line systems, which perceive changes in water pressure and movement, as well as olfactory nares that can detect dissolved chemicals in the water. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Schärer, et al., 2012)
- Other Communication Modes
Yellowfin grouper are pelagic hunters, feeding mainly on macrofauna. Their preferred diet is coral reef fishes; they are also known to consume crustaceans and squid. These fish may forage over long distances. They often use their mouths to burrow into the sand, waiting for prey. Their slender bodies and explosive swimming speed aid in the capture of prey, which they swallow whole. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Lavett-Smith, 1971)
- Animal Foods
- aquatic crustaceans
Yellowfin grouper are large, top-level predators and so are mainly only preyed upon as juveniles. They use reefs, wrecks, caves, and other structures as shelter from potential predators. As adults, they are susceptible to predation by sharks and humans, especially during spawning aggregations. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Schärer, et al., 2012)
Yellowfin grouper are important secondary and tertiary predators, as well as a primary food source for apex predators, such as sharks. Their nares may contain ectoparasitic isopods, and individuals have been found infected with intestinal parasitic flatworms as well as nematodes in their ovaries, which may hinder egg production. There is some evidence that yellowfin grouper have a natural immunity to some trematodes, such as Epibdella melleni. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Bullard, et al., 2011; Nigrelli and Breder Jr., 1934; Thompson and Munro, 1978)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
With their firm, white flesh, yellowfin grouper are a commercially important species. They are also highly prized in game fishing and are popular in public and private aquaria. ("Grouper Stocks of the Western Central Atlantic: The Need for Management and Management Needs", 1994; "Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007)
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
There have been some reports of ciguatera poisoning from consumption of yellowfin grouper; this potential toxicity is the origin of the species name "venenosa." This toxicity is not produced by the fish themselves, but from dinoflagellates that are consumed by their prey species, which are in turn ingested by the grouper. ("Important Aspects of the life history of the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, with emphasis on populations in the Caribbean", 2007; Bullard, et al., 2011; Heemstra and Randall, 1993)
Yellowfin grouper are classified as "near-threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. They are vulnerable to overfishing, particularly when they aggregate to spawn. In the Caribbean, about a third of spawning aggregations have completely disappeared due to over-fishing. From 1998 to 2013, the spawning aggregation in Belize declined 80%. Data from Bermuda and the Caribbean include evidence of diminishing stocks and declines in weight as much as 15 fold between the years 1979-1981, due to unregulated exploitation. Spawning sites in Belize, Cuba and Mexico are declining and are subject to commercial exploitation. ("Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Comprehensive Annual Catch Limit Amendment for the South Atlantic; Final Rule", 2012; Brule and Garcia-Moliner, 2004; Nemeth, et al., 2006; Sadovy, 1994; Sala, et al., 2001)
Jesus Cortez (), San Diego Mesa College, Ellen Huether (author), San Diego Mesa College, Lyndee Logan (author), San Diego Mesa College, Paul Detwiler (editor), San Diego Mesa College, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
- Atlantic Ocean
the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.
- bilateral symmetry
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.
active at dawn and dusk
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature
- external fertilization
fertilization takes place outside the female's body
union of egg and spermatozoan
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
- indeterminate growth
Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
specialized for swimming
- native range
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
- pet trade
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
an animal that mainly eats fish
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
condition of hermaphroditic animals (and plants) in which the female organs and their products appear before the male organs and their products
structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.
- saltwater or marine
mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.
- seasonal breeding
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others
uses sight to communicate
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