Learn more about barracuda with a free trial on Britannica.com.
The barracuda is a ray-finned fish known for its large size (up to 16 ft in length and up to a foot in width, for some species ) and fearsome appearance. Its body is long, fairly compressed, and covered with small, smooth scales. It is found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. It is of the genus Sphyraena, the only genus in the family Sphyraenidae.
Barracudas are elongated fish with powerful jaws. The lower jaw of the large mouth juts out beyond the upper. Barracudas possess strong, fang-like teeth. These are unequal in size and set in sockets in the jaws on the roof of the mouth. The head is quite large, pointed, and it is pike-like in appearance. The gill-covers do not have spines and are covered with small scales. The two dorsal fins are widely separated, with the first having five spines and the second having one spine and nine soft rays. The second dorsal fin equals the anal fin in size and is situated more or less above it. The lateral line is prominent and extends straight from head to tail. The spinous dorsal fin is placed above the pelvics. The hind end of the caudal fin is forked or concave. It is set at the end of a stout peduncle. The pectoral fins are placed low down on the sides. The barracuda swim bladder is large.
In general, the barracuda's coloration is dark green or gray above chalky-white below. This varies somewhat. Sometimes there is a row of darker cross-bars or black spots on each side. The fins may be yellowish or dusky. Barracudas only live in oceans.
Only some species of barracuda grow to a large size. The species which do are the European barracuda, barracouta or spet (S. sphyraena), found in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic; the great barracuda, picuda or becuna (S. picuda), ranging on the Atlantic coast of tropical America from Florida to Brazil and reaching the Bermudas; the California Barracuda (S. argentea), extending from Puget Sound southwards to Cabo San Lucas; the Indian barracuda (S. jello) and the black-finned or Commerson's barracuda (S. commersoni), both from the seas of India and the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago.
Barracudas occur both singly and in schools around reefs, but also appear in open seas. They are voracious predators and hunt using a classic example of lie-in-wait or ambush. They rely on surprise and short bursts of speed (up to 27mph (43 km/h)) to overrun their prey, sacrificing maneuverability.
The larger barracudas are more or less solitary in their habits. Barracudas do not stick around to care for their young. Young and half-grown fish frequently congregate in schools. Their food is composed of fish of all types. Large barracudas, when gorged, may attempt to herd a shoal of prey fish in shallow water, where they guard over them until they are ready for another meal. Large barracudas have been known to eat young barracudas.
Being formidable hunters, they should be respected, as barracudas are perfectly capable of defending themselves against humans that harass them. Handfeeding or trying to touch them is strongly discouraged. Spearfishing around barracudas can also be quite dangerous, as they are strongly attracted by the wounded fish.
There have been isolated cases where barracudas have bitten a human, but these incidents are rare and are believed to be caused by bad visibility. Barracudas will stop after the first bite as humans are not their normal food source.
Wearing jewelry and other shiny objects is discouraged as barracudas are quite attracted to things that glint and shine.
Barracuda are prize fish and can be caught either by conventional gear or fly fishing. They are extremely powerful and require appropriately scaled tackle.