Atlantic tripletail

Atlantic tripletail

The Atlantic tripletail, Lobotes surinamensis, is a warm water marine fish that can grow to 90 cm long and weigh 18 kg. It is also known under the name flasher.

Geographical distribution

The Atlantic tripletail is the only fish in the Lobotidae family that can be found in the Atlantic Ocean.

Atlantic tripletails are found from Massachusetts and Bermuda to Argentina, the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, from Madeira Island to the Gulf of Guinea, the eastern Pacific from Costa Rica to Peru, and the western Pacific from Japan to Fiji and Tuvalu. They are rarely found north of Chesapeake Bay. They are found on the Gulf Coast from April to October and then migrate to warmer waters during winter.


Atlantic tripletails are found coastally in most, but not all, tropical and subtropical seas. They are semi-migratorial and pelagic. Normally solitary, they have been known to form schools. They can be found in bays, sounds, and estuaries during the summer. Juveniles are usually found swimming under patches of Sargassum algae. Adults are usually found in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico but can also be found in passes, inlets, and bays near river mouths. The fishes are also often found in or near shipwrecks, beams or supports, jetties, and sea buoys. Larvae are usually found in waters that exceed temperatures of 84 °F (29 °C), greater than 30.3‰ salinity, and more than 230 feet (70 m) deep.


Distinctive features

Atlantic tripletails have scales that extend onto the dorsal, anal, and caudal fins and a head profile that concaves as the fish ages. It has a compressed but deep body with a triangle-shaped head. The eyes are small but the mouth is large. The bases of the dorsal and anal fins are scaled and the pectoral fins are shorter than the pelvic fins. The name "tripletail" is given because of the fish's three rounded fins: dorsal, caudal, and anal.


Juvenile Atlantic tripletails are colored a mottled yellow, brown, and black. Adults are jet black. When it lies on its side at the surface, the tripletail is sometimes confused for a floating mangrove leaf. The juveniles have white pectoral fins and a white margin on the caudal fin. Adult tripletails have varied mottled color patterns which range from dark brown to reddish brown, often with a tint of gray.

Size, age, and growth

The Atlantic tripletail grows to 35 inches (89 cm) in length and weighs up to 41 pounds


Atlantic tripletails are opportunistic eaters. This means that they feed on a variety of things, mostly small finfish like gulf menhaden, Atlantic bumpersss, and anchovies. They also feed on invertebrates like blue crabs and brown shrimp, as well as other benthic crustaceans.


Spawning primarily occurs in the summer along both the Atlantic and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coasts, with peaks during the months of July and August. Large congregations of tripletail during the summer months in the inshore and nearshore waters of coastal Georgia suggest that this area is a critical estuarian spawning habitat for the species. Larval Atlantic tripletails go though four levels of development; preflexion, flexion, postflexion, and transformation. By the time the larvae reach 0.16 inches (4 mm), they have large eyes and a concave head. The larval forms of Atlantic tripletails resemble those of boarfishes, some jacks, spadefishes and bigeyes.


Atlantic tripletails do not have many predators, but the main ones are sharks and larger teleosts.


Parasites that affect the tripletail include the copepods Anuretes heckelii which affect the branchial cavities, Lernanthropus pupa which affect the gill filaments, and Scianophilus tenius.

Importance to humans

A few tons of Atlantic tripletails are fished commercially on the east and west coasts of Florida, and marketed fresh, frozen, or salted. They are mainly caught using haul seines, gill nets and line gear. They are common in driftnet catches of tuna along the edge of the continental shelf. This fish is infrequently targeted by recreational fishers.


The Atlantic tripletail is not listed as endangered or vulnerable with the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the conservation status of species.


Most of the information in this article was written by Tina Perrotta in an article for the Icthyology branch of the Florida Museum of National History.

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