Albula vulpesMacabi(Also: Parra; Piojo; Sanducha)

Geographic Range

Bonefish are found in warm tropical waters from the southern coast of Florida, through the Bahamas and along the eastern coast of South America. Bonefish can also be found in the Pacific ocean from coastal California to Peru in South America. This range is roughly from 35 degrees north to 15 degrees south of the equator. Although bonefish are typically found in warmer climates, there have been reports of sightings into northern portions of the Atlantic coast in the United States. (Colton and Alevizon, 1983; Crabtree, et al., 1996; Kramer and Chapman, 1999)


Bonefish are found in varying water depths. They can be found in waters as deep as 100 m but, while feeding, can be found in extremely shallow waters. During feeding times, bonefish can be found in waters as shallow as 10 cm. When not feeding, bonefish retreat to deeper waters. (Colton and Alevizon, 1983; Crabtree, et al., 1996; Kramer and Chapman, 1999)

  • Range depth
    0.01 to 100 m
    0.03 to 328.08 ft

Physical Description

Bonefish have slender bodies with silver scales. They have numerous black stripes that run the length of the body. Adults vary in length, growing as large as 90 to 100 cm in size. There is sexual dimorphism, with females being larger than males. Males are from 40 to 50 cm, females are typically 2 to 5 cm larger than males. Larger fish can weigh as much as 7 to 9 kg, with most bonefish falling between 2 and 4 kg. (Bruger, 1974; Crabtree, et al., 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    9 (high) kg
    19.82 (high) lb
  • Average mass
    2-4 kg
  • Range length
    100 (high) cm
    39.37 (high) in
  • Average length
    40-50 cm


Fertilized eggs hatch into larvae, which goes through three developmental stages, in the first stage the larvae do not grow, followed by two stages in which the larvae grow larger. During the development stages, larvae are clear in color and very thin. After development is complete, juveniles gradually grow larger until they reach adult size. (Vasquez-Yeomans, et al., 2009; Morey, 2010; Vasquez-Yeomans, et al., 2009)


Reproduction occurs seasonally in bonefish, spawning mainly occurs from November to late May or early June. Bonefish are polygynandrous. They randomly mate, with eggs and sperm released into open water among other males and females. (Bruger, 1974; Crabtree, et al., 1997)

In bonefish spawning occurs throughout the year. During spawning, females release their eggs, which are then fertilized externally by males in the immediate area as the eggs are released. Spawning occurs in deep water containing a current to move the fertilized eggs. Spawning typically is accomplished in schools, resulting in random or group fertilization. Males and females do not have a distinct partner during spawning. (Bruger, 1974; Crabtree, et al., 1997; Morey, 2010)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from November to June.
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 7 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 5 years

During spawning season, females release eggs into the water column and males release sperm. After spawning, there is no parental care. Eggs develop in the water column. (Bruger, 1974; Crabtree, et al., 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female


Bonefish have an average life span of 5 to 10 years, but there are some records of this species living over 20 years. (Bruger, 1974; Crabtree, et al., 1996)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 to 10 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20 years


Bonefish are a social species, often found in shallow water in small schools of just a few fish, but have been found in much larger schools of over 75 individuals. (Colton and Alevizon, 1983)

Home Range

Bonefish do not have a defined home range.

Communication and Perception

Bonefish are a schooling species, they maintain large groups of individuals. Bonefish have good eye sight and a very good sense of smell, this is how they interact in the environment. (Morey, 2010)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

Bonefish are predators and consume a variety of prey. They feed on many small mollusks and crustaceans in shallow water. The majority of their diet consists of small crabs, fish, and shrimp, including xanthid and portunid crabs, toadfish, and snapping and penaeid shrimp (Crabtree et al., 1998). Bonefish normally school, but break into smaller groups to feed. (Bruger, 1974; Crabtree, et al., 1998)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans


As large fish, bonefish have few predators as adults. As larvae and young, however, bonefish are probably preyed on by a wide variety of other fish and aquatic predators. Predators of adult bonefish are mainly barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) and various sharks (nurse sharks, Ginglymostoma cirratum, blacktip sharks, Carcharhinus limbatus, tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, bonnethead sharks, Sphyrna tiburo and lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris). Humans (Homo sapiens) are another source of predation. In Florida waters, bonefish are protected and only one fish per day is allowed per angler. (Cooke and Philipp, 2004)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Bonefish play an important role the food chain in their ecosystem. As predators, they play a role in keeping smaller fish and crustacean populations in check. As prey, A. vulpes provides a food source for their predators, including sharks and barracudas. Bonefish are also used as hosts by Spinitectus beaveri, a nematoda parasite. (Bruger, 1974; Snodgrass, et al., 2008)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • nematode parasites (Spinitectus beaveri)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Bonefish are a widely prized sport fish among anglers. Bonefish cannot be commercially sold, so there is no impact from direct sales of the fish. However, purchases by anglers have economic impacts in Florida and the Bahamas. (Morey, 2010)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Humans can be afflicted with ciguatera poisoning through eating bonefish if the fish themselves are affected. ("Fisheries and Fishery Development of the Gilbert Islands Colony Including Fanning and Christmas Islands", 1979; Morey, 2010)

Conservation Status

Bonefish are not a listed species. Although they are not protected, fishing for bonefish is regulated.


Stephen Reeves (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (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

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  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

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


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.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


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


an animal that mainly eats fish


an animal which has a substance capable of killing, injuring, or impairing other animals through its chemical action (for example, the skin of poison dart frogs).


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Southwest Fisheries Center. Fisheries and Fishery Development of the Gilbert Islands Colony Including Fanning and Christmas Islands. H-79-2. Honolulu HI: National Marine Fisheries Service. 1979.

Bruger, G. 1974. Age, growth, food habits and reproduction of bonefish, Albula vulpes in south florida waters. Florida Marine Research Publication, 3: 1-20.

Colton, D., W. Alevizon. 1983. Movement patterns of bonefish, Albula vulpes , in Bahamian waters. Fishery Bulletin, 81/1: 148-154.

Cooke, S., D. Philipp. 2004. Behavior and mortality of caught-and-released bonefish (Albula spp.) in Bahamian waters with implications for a sustainable recreational fishery. Biological Conservation, 118: 599-607.

Crabtree, R., C. Handen, D. Snodgrass, C. Stevens. 1996. Age, growth, and mortality of bonefish, Albula vlpes, from the waters of the Florida Keys. Fishery Bulletin, 94(3): 442-451.

Crabtree, R., D. Snodgrass, C. Harnden. 1997. Maturation and reproductive seasonality in bonefish, Albula vulpes, from the waters of the florida keys.. Fishery Bulletin, 95(3): 456-465.

Crabtree, R., C. Stevens, D. Snodgrass, F. Stengard. 1998. Feeding habits of bonefish, Albula vulpes from waters of the florida keys. Fishery bulletin, 96(4): 754-766.

Kramer, D., M. Chapman. 1999. Implications of fish home range size and relocation for marine reserve function. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 55: 65-79.

Morey, S. 2010. "Ichthyology" (On-line). Accessed April 22, 2010 at

Overstreet, R. 1970. Spinitectus beaveri sp. n. (Nematoda: Spiruroidea) from the Bonefish, Albula vulpes (Linnaeus), in Florida. The Journal of Parisitology, 56/1: 128-130.

Pfeiler, E. 1996. Allozyme Differences in Caribbean and Gulf of California Populations of Bonefishes (Albula). Copeia, 1: 181-183.

Pfeiler, E., D. Padron, R. Crabtree. 2000. Growth rate, age and size of bonefish from the Gulf of California. Journal of Fish Biology, 56(2): 448-453.

Snodgrass, D., R. Crabtree, J. Serafy. 2008. Abundance, Growth, and Diet of Young-of-the-Year Bonefish (Albula spp.) off the Florida Keys, U.S.A.. Bulletin of Marine Science, 82(2): 185-193.

Vasquez-Yeomans, L., E. Sosa-Cordero, M. Lara, A. Adams, J. Cohuo. 2009. Patterns of distribution and abundance of bonefish larvae Albula spp. (Albulidae) in the western Caribbean and adjacent areas. Ichthyol Res, 56: 266-275.