Fish Facts » Barracuda
The great barracuda has a slender, streamlined body that is round in the mid-section. The top of the head between the eyes is nearly flat and the mouth is large, containing many large sharp teeth and a projecting lower jaw. The pectoral fin tips extend to the origin of the pelvic fins. The spinous and soft dorsal fins are widely separated and the double emarginate tail fin exhibits pale tips on each lobe. Body coloration of the great barracuda is brownish or bluish gray on the dorsum and upper side, with a greenish cast shading to silvery on the sides and a white belly. The upper side may have 18-23 dark bars most often observable when the fish is resting or over a variegated substrate. The black spots on the lower sides of the great barracuda distinguish it from other species of barracuda. The second dorsal fin, anal, and caudal fins are violet to black with whitish tips. Young barracuda exhibit pale reticulations on the dorsum and a dark stripe on either side that breaks into spots as the fish grows. These patterns are somewhat ephemeral though as juveniles can alter their color patterns to closely match that of their surroundings. These changes in coloration serve to camouflage the fish from predators as well as well as wary prey. Adults have similar coloration along with a more silvery appearance that is advantageous to a fish that swims near the surface of the water.
Great barracuda commonly occur in nearshore coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves. They may also reside in the open ocean, living predominantly at or near the surface, although they are at times found at depths to 325 feet (100m). Barracudas tend to be solitary but are sometimes found in small aggregations over reefs and sandy bottoms. Juveniles mature amongst mangroves and seagrass beds, habitats that offer cover from predators. During the second year of life, barracuda move to deeper reef habitats. Juveniles and some adults have been observed in areas that receive high amounts of freshwater input, however adults generally tend to avoid areas of brackish water.
Great barracudas feed on an array of prey including fishes such as jacks, grunts, groupers, snappers, small tunas, mullets, killifishes, herrings, and anchovies. Barracudas have a large gape and very sharp teeth, enabling them to feed on large fishes by chopping them in half. An opportunistic predator, great barracuda feed throughout the water column. Generally a diurnal fish, great barracuda locate their prey largely by sight. The body plan of the great barracuda is designed for speed and it is estimated that top speed for the species may be as fast as 36 mph (58 kph).
Although not prized as a commercial fish in North American waters, the great barracuda puts up a good fight and is therefore esteemed by some anglers as a gamefish. They may be caught with a variety of gear including handlines, rod and reel, seines, trammel nets, and gill nets. The great barracuda has been implicated in cases of ciguatera poisoning within certain areas of its range. Ciguatera poisoning is caused by the bioaccumulation of ciguatoxins in the flesh of tropical marine fishes. Ciguatoxins are produced by marine dinoflagellates that grow attached to marine algae and as such may be incidentally ingested by herbivorous fishes. Large piscivorous reef dwelling fishes occupying the apex of the food chain become reservoirs for the highest amounts of ciguatoxin by feeding on other members of the reef community. Poisoned people report gastrointestinal maladies that may last several days, a general weakness in their arms and legs, and a reversal in the ability to differentiate hot versus cold. The illness is serious and symptoms may persist for weeks.
Great barracuda are large fish. The record for a hook and line caught great barracuda is 1.7 meters (5.5 feet), 44 kg (103 lbs) and the species is reported to attain a size of 2 meters, 50 kg. Any barracuda over 4.8 feet (1.5 m) in length can be considered very large. Based on scale analysis of large specimens, great barracuda have a lifespan of at least 14 years. Sexual maturity is reached at a length of about 23 inches (60 cm).
Occurring worldwide in near shore tropical and subtropical seas (30°N - 30°S), the great barracuda is common in the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts (U.S.) to Brazil. It is also found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea as well as the eastern Atlantic Ocean, Indo-Pacific, and the Red Sea. It is rare or absent in areas of the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Florida Museum of Natural History
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