With more than 60,000 acres of submerged habitat Rookery Bay Reserve hosts hundreds of species of fish. Some live in freshwater lakes and marshes but the majority of the fish found in the Reserve's waters are marine or estuarine, meaning they require some level of salinity (salt) in their water. From the tiny crested goby to giant tarpon, the diversity of finned life here is astounding.
Spadefish (Chaetodipterus faber) are found in warm coastal waters in habitats ranging from mangroves to beaches to offshore reefs. They resemble angelfish, with a vertical striped pattern and laterally flattened body style, however the two are not related. Dark in color with white spots, juveniles sometimes mimick fallen leaves by floating on their sides when threatened.
Also known as scorpion fish, the barbfish has spines along its dorsal fin that may eject venom when not handled with care. As it hides, it vacuums up the crabs, shrimp and bony fish in its diet. This fish is a master of camouflage.
Sea robins, Prionotus tribulus, have heavily armored, spiny heads. They are capable of producing a grunting noise that can add to the fierce appearance of this unusual fish. Sea robins are bottom dwellers. They have separate rays (like soft spines) on their bellies, near the pectoral fins, that work like fingers. The rays help the fish find food buried in the sediment below. This fish’s head appears to take up about one third of its entire body length, hence its name. Big head sea robins inhabit bays and estuaries.
A relative of the red drum (redfish), the black drum gets its name from the sounds that come from its pharyngeal teeth. Some report this sound called "drumming" can be heard during spawning season, sending low frequencies throughout the area. These fish can grow up to 45 pounds and frequent sand flats and shallow water up to 100 feet deep. They are commonly seen in Rookery Bay estuaries and offshore waters, and we occasionally have one in residence in the mangrove tank at the ELC.
The code goby (Gobiosoma robustum) is a small fish with a long, slender body. The color pattern along its body includes a series of dark colored bands, dots and dashes that somewhat resemble morse code. The code goby has two dorsal fins typical of most gobies. Code gobies inhabit seagrass beds and algal mats, and are commonly found in shallow, saline waters.
The crested goby, Lophogobius cyprinoides, is named for the crest on top of its head. It is one of several goby species found within the Reserve and in the tanks at the Environmental Learning Center. Reaching lengths up to four inches, the crested goby is able to tolerate varying salinities, from fresh to marine environments, making it a relatively easy fish to keep healthy in captivity.
This fish eats 500 mosquitoes a day! The mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) is a freshwater species usually found in water bodies with dense vegetation. It can live with low oxygen levels, can adapt to extreme temperature changes, and is relatively resistant to disease. A member of the guppy family, this fish gives birth to live young. It has large eyes and an upturned mouth, well-adapted for feeding on mosquitoes near the water's surface.