Species: Albula vulpes
Description & Behavior
Though it is not a highly esteemed food species, the bonefish, Albula vulpes (Linnaeus, 1758), is one of the most important game fishes in the world, and it is also occasionally used for bait. Its weight and length may reach 10 kg and 104 cm respectively, though a more representative size would be about a third of that. The bonefish has 15-19 dorsal soft rays, 7-9 anal soft rays, 12-14 branchiostegal rays, and 69-74 vertebrae. Bonefish appear blue-greenish above, with bright silver scales on the sides and below. Dark streaks run in between the rows of scales, predominantly on the dorsal side. The body is long, thin, and fusiform, with a bluntly conical snout. Pectoral and pelvic axillary scales are present, as is a single long scale on each side of the membrane between each ray of dorsal and anal fins. The bonefish has a unique adaptation for tolerating oxygen-poor water; it inhales air into a lung-like airbladder to supplement oxygen from the water. It is sometimes mistaken for the ladyfish, a similar species. Linnaeus first described the bonefish in 1758. Its scientific name can be translated as “white fox.”
World Range & Habitat
The bonefish prefers reefs, shallows, estuaries, bays, grass flats, and other brackish areas at a depth from 0 to 84 m. It is found worldwide in subtropical warm seas. In the Eastern Pacific, its range includes waters off California to Peru; the Western Atlantic range stretches from North Carolina to Florida, the Bahamas, the Gulf of Mexico, the Antilles and the rest of the Caribbean to Brazil.
Feeding Behavior (Ecology)
A pelagic fish, the bonefish nonetheless feeds on benthic creatures such as worms, crustaceans, and mollusks, rooting them out from the sandy bottom. Granular teeth, forming specialized dental plates, cover the bonefish’s tongue and upper jaw, and similar grinders are also present in the throat, helping the fish to grind up its prey. Small to medium-size individuals often feed in schools. Sharks and barracuda often prey on bonefish, which may explain why the fish have evolved such a sleek body for a fast getaway.
Bonefish spawning occurs year round in deep water where currents can easily disperse the developing eggs and larvae to other locations. The fish are generally less reproductively active during the hotter summer months. Sexual maturity is reached at two years and near ripe females may be as small as 23 cm. The eggs hatch into ribbon-like larvae that transform into a more fish-like form once they reach two inches, at which point they move closer to shore. The minimum population doubling time is estimated between 1.4 and 4.4 years.
In 1990, scientists reported that the bonefish had caused a few episodes of ciguatera poisoning.