barracuda

barracuda

[bar-uh-koo-duh]
barracuda, slender, elongated fish of tropical seas. Barracudas have long snouts and projecting lower jaws armed with large, sharp-edged teeth. They are ferocious, striking at anything that gleams, and are considered excellent game fishes. The largest of the group, the great barracuda, averages 5 ft (1.5 m) in length but may reach 10 ft (3 m); it is dangerous to swimmers wearing shiny objects. Other species are the Pacific barracuda (4 ft/1.2 m long) and the smaller Northern barracuda, which is not dangerous. Barracudas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Sphyraenoidei, family Sphyraenidae.

Barracuda (Sphyraena)

Any of about 20 species of predaceous marine fishes (family Sphyraenidae) found in all warm and tropical regions and in some more temperate areas. Swift and powerful, barracudas are slender and have small scales, a jutting lower jaw, and a large mouth with many large, sharp teeth. They vary in size from relatively small to 4–6 ft (1.2–1.8 m) long. They are primarily fish eaters. They are popular sport fishes and are caught for food, though in certain seas they may become contaminated with a toxic substance. Bold and inquisitive, they are potentially dangerous to humans when large.

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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.

Appearance and physical description

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.

Behaviour

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.

Barracudas and humans

Like sharks, barracudas have long had a bad reputation as being dangerous to humans. As barracudas are also scavengers, they may mistake snorkelers for large predators and follow them to scavenge the remains of any prey left after an attack.

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.

As food

Barracudas are caught as both food and game fish. They are most often eaten as fillet or steak and have a strong taste like tuna or salmon. Larger species, like the great barracuda, have in some areas been implicated in cases of ciguatera food poisoning. In southern Nigeria, West Africa they are smoked and used in the preparation of different soups. The reason for smoking is because when cooked fresh, the fish is quite soft and disintegrates in the soup.

Angling

Barracuda are prize fish and can be caught either by conventional gear or fly fishing. They are extremely powerful and require appropriately scaled tackle.

Species

There are 26 known species:

Notes

References

  • Labat Jean-Baptiste (1663-1738) Nouveau voyage Isles de l'Amerique, contenant l'histoire naturelle...l'origine, les mour, la religion Paris 1742.
  • Norman JR, F.L.S. and Fraser, FC, D.Sc., F.L.S.Field Book of Giant Fishes G.P. Putnam's Sons New York 1949.
  • Rochefort Charles D. (1605-1683) Histoire naturelle et morale des illes Antilles de l'Amerique.
  • Sloane Hans Sir (1660-1753) A voyage to the islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica London, Printed by BM for the author, 1707-1725.

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