Smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) are fishes closely related to sharks and rays with skeletons composed of cartilage. Their distinctive rostrum has about 30 teeth on both sides used for defense and hunting prey. Southwest Florida estuaries have the greatest concentration of smalltooth sawfish in the world. Rookery Bay fisheries research has captured 36 different sawfish within the last 14 years, ten of them being recaptured at least once.
Related to the stingray but without the stinging barb on its short tail, the smooth butterfly ray has eyes on the top of its body and the rest of its "face" on its underside. The two eye-like features in this photo are called spiracles, which allow some sharks and rays to breathe while hiding or resting on the bottom. Below the spiracles we can see its mouth and gills. We sometimes catch rays like this one while conducting bottom trawls for our research or education programs.
Snook (Centropomus undecimalis) are game fish listed as a species of special concern. The under slung jaw and pronounced black stripe on the sides of adults are distinguishing characteristics. Juveniles (such as this one) often don't develop the black stripe until later in life. Snook are carnivorous lie-in-wait predators (making quick dashes to swallow its prey). Snook are sequentially hermaphroditic – they start out as males and turn into females as they get larger.
The southern puffer (Sphoeroides nephelus), when threatened, is able to inflate itself by swallowing water or air to make it more difficult for a predator to swallow. It is olive-gray above with tan spots and light belly. It has small spinelets, or pimple-like bumps, but no scales. Its small mouth consists of 4 teeth fused together forming a powerful beak used to crush the hard-shelled invertebrates that it eats.
Spotfin jawfish (Opistognathus robinsi) are mouth brooders, which means males keep fertilized eggs and newly hatched fry in their mouths for protection. They use their powerful jaws to dig burrows as shelter in sandy areas. Spotfin jawfish are easily identified by the large false-eyespot on their dorsal fin.
Watch our jawfish excavate his burrow in our focus tank!
Often erroneously called a porcupine fish or a puffer, the striped burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfi) uses a similar defense mechanism but is in a different family. The combination of a puffed up body and sharp spines deters predation on this slow swimming fish. The burrfish's beak-like mouth easily crushes the shells of mollusks and crustaceans. Its yellowish body is covered with dark wavy stripes.
This seldom-seen predator spends much of its life buried on the seafloor with only its eyes showing. It ambushes small fish and invertebrates and swallows them whole. Capable of reaching 22 inches in length, this fish has glands behind its eyes that create an electrical shock for self-defense.