Sphyraena barracudaShort barracuda

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Geographic Range

Sphyraena barracuda, commonly known as great barracuda, inhabit nearly all warm seas (Blaber 1997). They are found in the tropical regions of the Indo-Pacific, and Atlantic oceans, with an absence only from the Eastern Pacific (Lieske and Myers 1999).They have been found in the Red Sea and as far as the Bermudas in the Western Atlantic. They have been seen as far north as Massachusetts (Beebe and Tee-Van 1933).

Habitat

Adult great barracudas live in and around the edges of coral reefs. They tend to avoid brackish water unless they are getting ready to spawn (Paterson 2000). Post-larvae live on the margins and in the estuaries where they are protected. When they get large enough to protect themselves, they will move out into the open ocean and then to the margins of the coral reefs. These barracudas occur in clear water (Blaber 1997).

Great barracudas prefer water temperatures between 74F and 82F, although they have been found in much colder water (Paterson 2000).

Physical Description

Sphyraena barracuda is a long silvery fish with two widely separate dorsal fins, characteristic of its family, Sphyraenidae.They have large scales and a pointed head with a large mouth and long knife-like teeth (Lieske and Myers 1999).Great barracuda have a large gape (Paterson 2000). They can reach up to 2 meters in length (Grosvenor 1978). Many fisherman used to think that barracudas were closely related to pikes because of the similarity in their body form. Sphyraena barracuda has a lower jaw projecting which is helpful in biting. They are a grayish brown above and silvery below which is quite universal throughout their geographic range. They often have dark ink-like spots that are arranged in no pattern on their sides. The young have dark crossbars on their backs and blotches on their sides. The young also have a soft dorsal fin and the anal and caudal fins can be blackish (Beebe and Tee-Van 1933). Males and females are indistinguishable to humans (Paterson 2000).

  • Range mass
    0 to 0 kg
    0.00 to 0.00 lb
  • Average mass
    40 kg
    88.11 lb

Reproduction

It is still unclear about the timing and location of spawning of Sphyraena barracuda. Some research reports that they spawn in the spring. Others claim that they spawn in association with particular phases of the moon. Still others claim that great barracudas spawn throughout the year with the exception of the winter months when it is cooler. It may be that great barracudas show different spawning patterns in different areas of the world. Overall, the picture of spawning patterns in great barracudas is incomplete (Paterson 2000).

Great barracuda do not care for their fertilized eggs. They are left to drift out into the ocean and eventually take form (Paterson 2000). When the fish spawn they enter shallow waters such as estuaries. The larvae hatches and seeks shallow weedy areas on the margins of clear-water estuaries. When the larvae reach a length of about 80mm they move to the deeper waters of adjacent reed beds. At about 300mm they will move to open waters and eventually they will move out of the estuaries completely at about 500mm in length (Blaber 1997). (Blaber, 1997; Paterson, 2000)

  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1460 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1460 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    740 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    730 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    14 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Sphyraena barracuda is often a solitary fish as an adult, especially at night. Juveniles and adults can be observed traveling in schools during the day. Other behavior has been observed, such as, adult great barracuda schooling during the day, likely hunting for food or protecting each other from predation. Groups of hundreds and even thousands of great barracudas have been observed. This, however, is rarely seen (Paterson 2000). They are known as vicious fish (Lieske and Myers 1999). They have been known to attack divers and are capable of inflicting severe wounds. They kill compulsively and will destroy more than they eat (Grosvenor 1978). Most often, great barracudas attack only when provoked (Moyle and Cech 1982).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Great barracuda eat other fish. They are piscivorous at all ages. Their large teeth are quite useful for this purpose. They have a large gape which allows them to feed on very large fish by chopping them in half. They eat what they can catch using their combination of a sit-in-wait and active predator style. As juveniles, these fish compete with needlefishes and small snapper for food. This consists of killifishes, herrings, sardines, gobies, silversides, anchovies small mullets, and lizardfishes to name a few. As the fish get older and bigger, they may compete with larger fish like mackerel, or even dolphins, depending on their habitat (Paterson 2000).

Sphyraena barracuda will feed on both bottom-dwelling species as well as species of the higher water column (Paterson 2000).

They have the narrow head-on profile and the silvery color which reduces their visibility to prey. It has been observed that great barracudas herd schools of fish into shallow water and guard them. They will do this until their last meal has been digested and they are hungry again (Norman 1958).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Great barracuda meat is tasty for some people. Very little barracuda meat is eaten in the United States, and few people like to fish them. But, for those who do, they are found to be great game fighters on light tackle (Grosvenor 1978).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Great barracudas can be dangerous. This means beware, for many tourist who like to snorkel or dive in the Carribbean or in other clear waters where these fish live.

For those people who like to eat great barracudas, ciguaterra is an issue. Ciguaterra occurs more often in large fish (Grosvenor 1978). It is a debilitating illness that can result in some severe physiological changes, sometimes even death. Ciguatoxin is ingested when eating tropical and subtropical fish. Some species are more likely to be dangerous than others (Paterson 2000). Due to the danger of poison, great barracuda meat is illegal to sell (Food and Drug Administration 2000). For more information on poisoning from Sphyraena barracuda and other tropical fish, visit the Food and Drug Administrations web site at The Seafood Product Research Center.

Contributors

William Fink (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Brianne Fuller (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

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

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map

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.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

iteroparous

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).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

natatorial

specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

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

reef

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.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

References

Beebe, W., J. Tee-Van. 1933. The Field Book of the Shore Fishes of Bermuda. New York: G.P. Putnams' Son's.

Blaber, S. 1997. Fish and Fisheries of Tropical Estuaries. New York: Chapman and Hall.

Food and Drug Aministration, , Seafood Products Research Center, Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, Regulatory Fish Encyclopedia. January 27, 2000. "Hazard, Market, Geographic and Nomenclature Information for Great Barracuda" (On-line). Accessed November 14, 2000 at http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/RFE2gb.html.

Grosvenor, M. 1978. Wonderous World of Fishes. Washington D.C.: National Geographic.

Lieske, E., R. Myers. 1999. Coral Reef Fishes: Carribbean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Including Red Sea. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Moyle, P., J. Cech. 1982. Fishes: An Introduction to Ichthylolgy. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc..

Norman, J. 1958. A History of Fishes. New York: Hill and Wang.

Paterson, S. 2000. "Great Barracuda" (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2000 at http://www.uga.edu/cuda/.