Butterfish

Peprilus triacanthus family

Stromateidae taxonomy

Stromateus triacanthus Peck, 1804, New Hampshire, United States.

other common names

English: American butterfish; French: Stromate fossette; Spanish: Palometa pintada.

physical characteristics

Length about 11.8 in (30 cm). Body thin and deep, with short head and blunt snout. Single dorsal fin is taller shortly posterior to its origin, with 2-4 spines and 40-48 soft rays (II-IV, 40-48); pectoral fins moderately elongate with 1-22 fin rays; 22-25 gill rakers; lateral-line scales 96-105; anal fin almost as long as dorsal fin, with 3 spines and 37-44 rays; caudal fin deeply forked with slightly greater lower lobe. Pelvic fins absent. Color grayish blue above and silvery on sides, with many irregular dark spots laterally.

distribution

Western Atlantic Ocean, from off South Carolina, United States, to Nova Scotia (sometimes as a stray off the coast of Newfoundland); also further south to the coast of Florida, United States, in deeper water, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico.

habitat

Continental shelf; found pelagically or demersally in waters as deep as 600 ft (183 m), usually over sandy bottoms. May venture into shallow bays and estuaries.

behavior

Little is known concerning behavior other than reproduction. During the first year may live in association with jellyfishes or freely, but forms schools as adults. Migratory patterns are common in consequence of water temperature. Appear seasonally off northeastern coast of the United States, but are generally unpredictable as to when.

feeding ecology and diet

Feeds abundantly on soft-bodied invertebrates, preferring uro-chordates and mollusks. Also feeds on cnidarians, ctenophores, chaetognaths, polychaetes, and crustaceans (including am-phipods, copepods, mysids, and euphausiids). Juveniles in Narra-ganset Bay, Rhode Island, United States, feed heavily on ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, not by ingesting it whole but by taking small bites. Feeding occurs both day and night. Preyed on by some 30 species of fishes and squids, and are part of the diet of many commercially important fishes, such as haddocks, blue-fishes, swordfishes, summer flounders, and hammerhead sharks.

reproductive biology

Sexually mature between first and second years, starting about 7.1 in (18 cm) standard length (i.e., exclusive of the caudal fin). Broadcast spawners, lack specialized courtship behavior. Spawning takes place once a year during summer months. Eggs are buoyant, spherical, and transparent, measure some 0.03 in (0.08

cm) in diameter; include a single oil droplet. Larvae begin to resemble adults about 0.6 in (1.5 cm), when fin rays of dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are fully formed.

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

Important commercial fishes, heavily consumed since the 1800s, and commonly caught by otter trawls, gill nets, and other means. In the early 2000s, yearly catches averaged under 4,921 tons (5,000 t), but in 1973 close to 19,684 tons (20,000 t) were landed. The flesh is considered to be very delicious and "melt-in-your-mouth," which is reflected in the common name. ♦

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