Other Free Encyclopedias » Animal Life Resource » Fish and Other Cold-Blooded Vertebrates » Ladyfishes and Tarpons: Elopiformes - Behavior And Reproduction, Ladyfishes, Tarpons, And People, Atlantic Tarpon (megalops Atlanticus): Species Account - PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS, GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS

Ladyfishes and Tarpons: Elopiformes - Atlantic Tarpon (megalops Atlanticus): Species Account

fishes live kilograms spawning

Physical characteristics: Atlantic tarpons are bright silver all over, and the back is darker than the sides or belly. These fishes can weigh more than 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and can be more than 6.6 feet (2 meters) long, although the average weight of females is about 110 pounds (50 kilograms) and of males is only 66 pounds (30 kilograms). The body is long and looks flat when viewed from the top. The mouth is very large, and the lower jaw juts out beyond the upper jaw. The scales, or thin, hard plates that cover the skin, are large. The last ray, or supporting rod, of the dorsal (DOOR-suhl) fin, the fin that runs along the top of the body, is very long.


Geographic range: Atlantic tarpons live on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Atlantic tarpons sometimes enter freshwater, traveling far up rivers and entering lakes far from the sea. (Illustration by Jacqueline Mahannah. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat: Atlantic tarpons live in shallow coastal waters and estuaries. They sometimes enter freshwater, traveling far up rivers and entering lakes far from the sea. Young tarpons live in small, still pools with varying levels of salt and sometimes enter freshwater. Tarpons cannot survive water temperatures less than 55°F (12.8°C). Large numbers of tarpons die during severe cold fronts off Florida.


Diet: Young Atlantic tarpons eat microscopic crustaceans, fishes, shrimps, and mosquito larvae. Adults eat fishes, crabs, and shrimps.


Behavior and reproduction: Atlantic tarpons rise to the surface to breathe air using the swim bladder, an organ usually used for controlling their position in the water. This ability allows tarpons to live in water with small amounts of oxygen, such as hot, still, stale marshes.

Tarpons can live more than fifty years. By one year of age, tarpons are about 18 inches (46 centimeters) long. They start to reproduce at about ten years of age. Large tarpons caught in Florida are about fifteen to thirty-five years old.

In some areas Atlantic tarpons spawn all year; in others spawning takes place in spring and summer. In the western Atlantic, tarpons gather into schools at the beginning of the spawning season and then move together offshore. This behavior may be related to storms or tides. Scientists do not know how many eggs are released at each spawning, but they do know that the ovaries (OH-veh-rees), or egg-producing organs, can contain up to twenty million eggs, so the number released at one time probably is huge.

The larvae of Atlantic tarpons drift toward shore for about thirty days, reaching estuaries when they are about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) long. During metamorphosis the fishes become smaller than the larvae, but they look like tiny versions of the giant tarpons they will become.


Atlantic tarpons and people: Atlantic tarpons are popular sport fishes, but tarpon is not considered a good food fish.


Conservation status: Atlantic tarpons are not threatened or endangered. ∎

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

Gilbert, Carter Rowell, and James D. Williams. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Fishes: North America. New York: Knopf, 2002.

Ricciuti, Edward R. Fish. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch, 1993.

Schultz, Ken. Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Saltwater Fish. New York: Wiley, 2004.

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