Sciaenops ocellatusDrum(Also: Redfish)

Geographic Range

The red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus, can be found along the Gulf Coast of the United States from Texas to Florida. It is also found along the United States east coast from Florida northward into northern Maine. The red drum can also be found along the Gulf Coast of Mexico, southward through Central America along the northern coast of Brazil southward to central Argentina. (Center for Quantitive Fisheries Ecology, 2014; Scharf and Schlight, 2000; Stunz and Minello, 2001)


The red drum thrives in marine environments with various types of substrates. The red drum inhabits areas with oyster bottoms, unvegetated sand bottoms, and in marsh grasses along the coastline. The species will also inhabit deeper coastal waters, at a depth of up to 40 meters. On average, the red drum inhabits depths of 20 meters, but will be found in shallow waters along land in a depth of about 1 meter. Threat of predation and available food will influence the mean depth of the red drum. In the spawning seasons, the red drum will move into inlets and estuaries, primarily into the marsh grasses, depending on the tidal region, and can also survive in brackish water. (Powers, et al., 2012; Wenner, 1992)

  • Range depth
    1 to 40 m
    3.28 to 131.23 ft
  • Average depth
    20 m
    65.62 ft

Physical Description

The red drum is on average 100 cm long and weighs 22 kg, but individuals in the wild can be as long as 160 cm and weigh 42.6 kg. The red drum has an amber red and golden body which changes hue upon spawning season to a darker more intense shade, and white underbelly. The exact shades of the colors are dependent on the habitat and geographic region. The red drum is known for the black dot on the rear portion towards the caudal fin, which will have dots on both sides above the lateral line from the dorsal fin back to the caudal fin. Some fish can be found with up to 12 dots, and it is not uncommon to find a different number of dots on each side. The caudal fin has a distinct bluish hue on the tip. The mouth is located inferior on the body, which is an adaptation to retrieve crabs and other bottom-dwelling organisms. The red drum experiences sexual dimorphism, in which the female is typically larger than the male. (Lio, et al., 2009; Matlock, 1987; Powers, et al., 2012; Wenner, 1992)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    1.7 to 42.6 kg
    3.74 to 93.83 lb
  • Average mass
    22.0 kg
    48.46 lb
  • Range length
    40 to 160 cm
    15.75 to 62.99 in


Once the egg is released by the female, it is fertilized externally by the male. Within 22 to 28 hours post-fertilization, the egg will have hatched, producing a larva that averages 0.18 cm in length. Until around day twenty, the larva feeds primarily on plankton. After two weeks, the red drum will average 0.64 cm long, and growth will occur rapidly. Growth averages about 1.18 kg a year, until around age five where the rate of gaining mass slows down. Environmental conditions such as water temperature and currents play a major factor in the number of surviving larvae. However once the fish is around ten centimeters in length, its environmental vulnerability decreases significantly due to its increase in size and strength. (Stunz and Minello, 2001; Wenner, 1992)


To attract a female, male red drum produce a croaking sound through the use of muscles along their swim bladder. Males also change color from a lighter hue of red to dark red above their underbelly, which stays white. The red drum is polygynandrous, likely having many partners throughout the mating season. Drumming occurs primarily at dusk, which encourages spawning at night. The females are attracted to the drumming noises and swim towards the males. The male nudges the female with its head, causing eggs to be released by the female, then fertilized by the male. (Matlock, 1987; Powers, et al., 2012; Rooker, et al., 1998; Stunz and Minello, 2001; Wenner, 1992)

The red drum mates in coastal offshore waters, generally in the vicinity of inlets. However, the red drum has been known to reproduce in water up to twenty meters deep. Spawning occurs at night, in which the female releases eggs, and the male fertilizes the eggs with sperm. The red drum senses suitable environmental conditions for the young red drum, such as an average water temperature of 27 degrees Celsius. Spawning season occurs in the late summer into the early fall, generally beginning around September. Depending on the water temperatures and currents, the red drum can spawn for up to three months. A female is able to spawn every three to five days during the spawning season, and produce up to two million eggs at a time. The fertilized eggs travel from the deep coastal waters via currents and tidal flow, into shallower inland areas such as marsh grasses, where they will hatch generally within a day. On average the male red drum become mature by age three (range 1 to 5). Females are generally mature at age six. Female red drum have also been seen as mature as early as age three. (Powers, et al., 2012; Ross and Stevens, 1995; Stunz, et al., 2002; Wenner, 1992; Wilson and Nieland, 1994)

  • Breeding interval
    Red drum breed multiple times in the early fall.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in early fall, usually beginning in September.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range time to hatching
    22 to 28 hours
  • Average time to hatching
    24 hours
  • Average time to independence
    0 hours
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    6 (high) years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    5 years

The mature red drum release eggs offshore and coastal waters, allowing tides and currents to transport the eggs into shallow waters and marshes. The parents have no interaction with their young beyond the release and fertilization of eggs. (Powers, et al., 2012; Stunz and Minello, 2001; Wenner, 1992)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


The oldest known red drum caught in the wild was found to be 58 years old, but on average, the red drum lives for 35 years. The red drum is found in captivity, but no information reported the lifespan. (Matlock, 1987; Patterson, et al., 2004; Smith and Fuiman, 2004)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    58 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    35 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    35 years


Not much is known about the behavior of the red drum. The red drum is known to be active both day and night.

The drumming noises which occur during mating are advantageous, by attracting a female red drum, especially because mating occurs at dusk into the evening. (Powers, et al., 2012; Wenner, 1992)

Home Range

The red drum generally does not defend a territory. Movement of the red drum occurs due to the water temperatures as well as the abundance of food. (Stunz and Minello, 2001; Wenner, 1992)

Communication and Perception

Not much is known about the communication between red drum. However, it is known that during the spawning period, the males make a croaking sound to try and attract nearby females. There are no publications specifying different frequencies related to different meanings. The croaking noise can also be heard when the fish is under extreme stress, such as being pulled out of the water by an angler. The red drum also communicates while spawning by physical contact with a female through a series of bumping and nudges. Vision is useful, as the dot patterns on other red drum assists with intraspecies recognition. (Lio, et al., 2009; Matlock, 1987; Patterson, et al., 2004)

Food Habits

Although the diet of red drum varies by location, one pattern holds true: as the fish grows in size, the size of their food also increases. As a juvenile (around 5 months of age), the red drum will have a diet consisting of mainly small grass shrimp (Palaemonetes), other small juvenile fish such as spot Leiostomus xanthurus and minnows. As they grow to around 15 to 20 centimeters, red drum will begin to eat small crustaceans such as fiddler crabs (Uca). Finally, as the red drum continues to grow, their diet will consist mainly of fiddler crabs and small fish, with shrimp as well. However, the volume of shrimp will be much less than the volume eaten as a juvenile. (Scharf and Schlight, 2000; Stunz and Minello, 2001; Wenner, 1992)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans


The most common natural predators are bottle-nose dolphins (Tursiops), which attack red drum of all sizes. The red drum has an adaptation of one or many black dots near the caudal tail. These dots are used to trick the predator into thinking the dots are eyes. If the red drum does encounter injury, it will likely be to the tail instead of vital organs. Finally, humans (Homo sapiens) are a common predator on the red drum. The red drum is a frequent target to both recreational and commercial fisheries. (Powers, et al., 2012; Wenner, 1992)

Ecosystem Roles

The red drum is a host to parasites such as myxozoan (Phylum Cnidaria) worms like Parvicapsula renalis and Henneguya ocellata. These parasites were found within the gill regions, as well as in the kidneys. Henneguya ocelleta have been found within the kidney regions, but no negative effects on the red drum have been noted. (Landsbrg, 1993; Lio, et al., 2009)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Myxozoan worms (Parvicapsula renalis)
  • Myxozoan worms (Hennaguya ocellata)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The red drum is a target among recreational anglers, being the second most commonly targeted species in the Gulf Coast. Fishermen travel to areas where the red drum is abundant. The revenue brought in by the red drum alone is not reported, but influx of anglers adds to the region’s economy. The red drum is also regularly caught commercially and sold as a food product. (Matlock, 1987; Stunz, et al., 2002; Wenner, 1992)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no studies that indicate the red drum poses a negative economic impact. However, Henneguya ocelleta can cause health issues to humans when an infected red drum is eaten raw, usually resulting in a day of sickness similar to food poisoning. No hospitalization has been reported due to ingestion of these parasites by humans. (Landsbrg, 1993; Lio, et al., 2009; Stunz, et al., 2002)

Conservation Status

The red drum is not evaluated on the IUCN Red List and is not protected by CITES. The species is regulated by marine fishery agencies which set statewide laws and regulations specific for species such as the red drum. These laws regulate the size and quantity of the fish an angler can keep per day to help limit over fishing. An example of these limits would be in Virginia, fish must be within 46cm and 66cm, with a limit of three fish per angler per day. (Hutton, 1964; Landsbrg, 1993; Lio, et al., 2009)


Chris Smith (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Emily Clark (editor), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (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.

World Map


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.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

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.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.


an animal that mainly eats meat

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


active at dawn and dusk

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

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


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

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.


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


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.

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


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


2011. "Regional Summary Gulf of Mexico" (On-line). Accessed April 02, 2015 at

Bohnsack, J. 2011. Impacts of Florida coastal protected areas on recreational world records for spotted sea trout, red drum, black drum, and common snook. Bulletin of Marine Science, 87: 939-970.

Center for Quantitive Fisheries Ecology, 2014. "Red Drum" (On-line). Accessed February 05, 2015 at

Daniels, W., E. Robinson. 1986. Protein and energy requirements of juvenile red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus). Aquaculture, 53/3-4: 243-252.

Hutton, R. 1964. A second list of parasites from marine and coastal animals of Florida. Transactions of the American Microscopical Society, 83/4: 439-447.

Landsbrg, J. 1993. Kidney myxosporean parasites in red drum Sciaenops ocellatus (Sciaenidae) from Florida, USA, with a description of Parvicapsula renalis n. sp. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, 17: 9-16.

Lio, Y., L. Chen, K. Shao. 2009. The predatory Atlantic red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus, has invaded the western Taiwanese coast in the Indo-West Pacific. Biological Invasions, 1/1: 1-6.

Matlock, G. 1987. The life history of red drum. Pp. 1-236 in G Chamberlin, R Miget, M Haby, eds. Red Drum Aquaculture, Vol. 90/603. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University.

McGoogan, B., D. Gatlin. 1998. Metabolic requirements of red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus, for protein and energy based on weight gain and body composition. The Journal of Nutrition, 128/1: 123-129.

Patterson, H., R. McBride, N. Julien. 2004. Population structure of red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) as determined by otolith chemistry. Marine Biology, 144: 855-862.

Peters, K., R. McMichael. 1987. Early life history of the red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus (Pisces: Sciaenidae), in Tampa Bay, Florida. Estuaries, 10/2: 92-107.

Powers, S., C. Hightower, M. Drymon, M. Johnson. 2012. Age composition and distribution of red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) in offshore waters of the north central Gulf of Mexico: an evaluation of a stock under a federal harvest moratorium. Fishery Bulletin, 110/3: 283-292.

Rooker, J., G. Holt, S. Holt. 1998. Vulnerability of newly settled red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) to predatory fish: Is early-life survival enhanced by seagrass meadows?. Marine Biology, 131: 145-151.

Ross, J., T. Stevens. 1995. Age, growth, mortality, and reproductive biology of red drums in North Carolina waters. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 124/1: 37-54.

Scharf, F., K. Schlight. 2000. Feeding habits of red drum (Sciaenops ocelltus)in Galveston Bay, Texas: Seasonal diet variation and predator-prey size relationships. Estuaries, 23/1: 128-139.

Smith, M., L. Fuiman. 2004. Behavioral performance of wild-caught and laboratory-reared red drum Sciaenops ocellatus (Linnaeus) larvae. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 302/2004: 17-33.

Stunz, G., T. Minello. 2001. Habitat-related predation on juvenile wild-caught and hatchery-reared red drum Sciaenops ocellatus (Linnaeus). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 260/2001: 13-25.

Stunz, G., T. Minello, P. Levin. 2002. Growth of newly settled red drum Sciaenops ocellatus in different estuarine habitat types. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 238: 227-236.

Tomasso, T., C. Kempton. 2000. Effects of salinity on productions of characteristics of red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus. Journal of Applied Aquaculture, 10/2: 67-71.

Turner, T., J. Wares, J. Gold. 2002. Genetic effective size is three orders of magnitude smaller than adult census size in an abundant, estuarine-dependent marine fish (Sciaenops ocellatus). Genetics, 162/3: 1329-1339.

Wenner, C. 1992. Red drum natural history and fishing techniques in South Carolina. Marine Resources Research Institute, 1/17: 1-45.

Wilson, C., D. Nieland. 1994. Reproductive biology of red drum, Sciaenopso ocellatus, from the neritic waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Fishery Bulletin, 92/4: 841-850.