Description & Behavior
Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1847), are large, beautiful, silvery fish that reach up to 250 cm and weigh up to 161 kg. The average life span is 55 years.
Other scientific names (synonyms) include: Tarpon atlanticus (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1847), Clupea gigantea (Shaw, 1804) and Clupea thrissoides (Bloch and Schneider, 1801).
Their dorsal fin is located at mid-body and an anal fin is found at the posterior end. Pectoral fins are low on the body. Tarpon have very large scales; 37-42 scales along the lateral line. Their coloring is bluish-gray on the dorsal side with very bright silvery sides. They possess a swim bladder attached to their esophagus which enables them to live in oxygen-poor brackish waters. Last ray extended as a heavy filament.
The tarpon is a favorite fish of sport fishermen and is known for its spectacular leaps when hooked in an attempt to get away. The flesh is very bony. When afraid, the tarpon produces sound in the form of thumps using its swim bladder.
World Range & Habitat
Tarpon are wide-ranging found in shallow coastal waters, bays, estuaries, mangrove-lined lagoons, and rivers in the Eastern Atlantic: Senegal to Angola, with occasional sightings off the coast of Portugal, the Azores, and the Atlantic coast of southern France. In the Western Atlantic they are found in: North Carolina, USA to Bahia, Brazil, with occasional occurrences off the North American coast in Nova Scotia and Canada. They are also found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and in the Eastern Central Pacific on Cobia Island in Panama via the Panama Canal. Large schools may frequent particular spots for years.
Feeding Behavior (Ecology)
The tarpon employs different feeding techniques depending on its stage of growth and development. Stage I larvae absorb nutrients directly from seawater. Stage II and III larvae and small juveniles consume zooplankton (copepods and ostracods), insects, and small fish. As tarpon mature, they prey on fish, particularly mid-water prey such as mullets, pinfish, marine catfishes, Atlantic needlefish, sardines, shrimp, and crabs, as well as larger invertebrates including shrimp and crabs. Tarpon feed during both day and night. Because of their small teeth, they generally swallow their prey whole.
Adult female tarpon produce over 12 million eggs at a time, spawning occurs annually.
Tarpon are prey for zooplankton during the egg and larval stages and for birds as juveniles in nursery areas. Humans and sharks are the primary predators of adult tarpon, however, they are also consumed by porpoises and alligators.
Tarpon’s, Megalops atlanticus, large scales are used in ornamental work and in preparation of artificial pearls. There have been reports of ciguatera poisoning from eating tarpon.
The all-tackle world record (additionally certified as the 80-pound class record) for a giant tarpon is 286-pounds, 9-ounces caught by Max Domecq in Rubane, Guinea-Bissau, Africa on March 20, 2003.
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