Pipefish of the Florida Panhandle

Pipefish of the Florida Panhandle

I recently posted an article about the seahorses of the Florida panhandle.  It would be remiss of me if I did not include their close cousins the pipefish.  Where seahorses are well known but hard to find, pipefish are easy to find but not well known.

The seahorse-like pipefish.
Photo: University of Florida

Pipefish are in the same family as seahorses, Syngnathidae, and are basically elongated seahorses.  Pulling seine nets in local grassbeds we often catch them.  Students always ask what they are.  “Are these needlefish?”  is a frequent question.  I reply “no, they are pipefish”.  Which then comes “pikefish?”.  To which I reply “No, PIPEfish… like P-I-P-E… – they are basically elongated seahorses”.  And then there is always – “coool”.  To which I reply “yes… very cool”.


Pipefish have the same body armor, body rings, and long tube snout of the seahorse.  However, they lack the curled prehensile tail for a more elongated body, looking more a grass blade than their cousins.  They actually have a caudal fin (the fin most call “fish tail”).  Most range between 3-6 inches long but the chain pipefish can reach a length of 10 inches, this is the “big boy” of the group.  Like seahorses, they hide in the grass using their tube-shaped mouths to suck in small planktonic food.  Like the seahorses, the males’ possess a brood pouch to carry the fertilized eggs and give live birth (ovoviviparous).


The pipefish can quickly be divided into two groups – those with long snouts, and those with short – and this can be easily seen when captured in a net.  After that identification gets a bit tricky, you have to count rays in the fins or rings on the body.  It is sufficed to say, “it’s a pipefish” and leave it at that.


Those with long snouts include the Opossum, Chain, Dusky, and Sargassum pipefish.


The Opossum Pipefish (Microphis brachyurus) is about 3 inches long and was not reported from the northwestern Gulf of Mexico according to Hoese and Moore1.  In the eastern Gulf, our way, it is considered rare but has been found in salt marshes, seagrasses, and in Sargassum mats drifting in from the Gulf.  The Florida Museum of Natural History list this fish as a “marine invader”2.  In 1991 NOAA listed it as a species of concern due to its decline across the region3.  There are reports of this pipefish entering freshwater creeks within our estuaries.


The Chain Pipefish (Syngnathus louisianae) has a very long snout and is the “big boy” of the group reaching 10 inches in length.  It is quite common along the panhandle and has one of the larger ranges of this group, found all along the Atlantic coast, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean.


The Dusky Pipefish (Syngnathus floridae) is a long-snout, large pipefish reaching a length of eight inches.  It prefers higher salinity than many pipefish and is found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic seaboard often offshore.


The Sargassum Pipefish (Syngnathus pelagicus).  This is a good scientific name for this fish (pelagicus) for it lives on the large mats of Sargassum weed that drifts across the oceans.  Because of this it has a worldwide distribution.  This longnose pipefish reaches the typical length of six inches.  It lives as many other pipefish do hiding in the grass snapping up food when it comes close enough but it’s habitat is often drifting offshore and inshore sightings of this species are rare.


There are three species of “short-snout” pipefish.


The Fringed Pipefish (Anarchopterus crinigerus) is a smaller pipefish reaching only three inches.  It seems to be absent in the western Gulf but is found along the Florida panhandle, the Gulf coast of peninsula Florida, and through the Caribbean to Brazil.


The Northern Pipefish (Syngnathus fuscus) reaches a length of six inches.  It is very common along the Atlantic seaboard but Hoese and Moore1 report only four specimens from the Gulf of Mexico.  This one would be considered very rare, and an expert should identify it if one thinks they have it.


The Gulf Pipefish (Syngnathus scovelli) is one of the more common pipefish collected in our waters.  It is a short-snout species reaching the typical six inches but has these distinct bluish-gray bars that run vertically along the sides.  It is found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and even into some freshwater habitats.  The Florida Museum of Natural History also list this species as a marine invader4.


I am not sure how much seining you do along our waterways, but if you do any within the grassbeds you are sure to find one of these unique and interesting fish.




1 Hoese, H.D., Moore, R.H. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. Texas A&M Press, College Station TX. Pp. 327.


2 Opossum pipefish.  Discover Fishes.  Florida Museum of Natural History.  https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/florida-fishes-gallery/opossum-pipefish/.


3 Opossum Pipefish.  Species of Concern.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service.  https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1224/ML12240A312.pdf.


4 Gulf Pipefish.  Discover Fishes. Florida Museum of Natural History.  https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/florida-fishes-gallery/gulf-pipefish/.

Seahorses of the Florida Panhandle

Seahorses of the Florida Panhandle

Seahorses are one of the coolest creatures on this planet – period.  I mean who doesn’t like seahorses?  People state “I love snakes”, “I hate snakes”, “I love sharks”, “I hate sharks”.  But no one says, “I hate seahorses”.  They are sort of in the same boat with sea turtles, everyone loves sea turtles.  They are an icon of the sea, logos for beach products and coastal HOAs, underwater cartoons and tourist development boards, diving clubs and local restaurants.  But have you ever seen one?  I mean beyond seeing one at a local aquarium or such, have you ever found one while snorkeling on one of our beaches?


Most would say no.


I have lived in the panhandle all my life and have spent much of it in the water, and I can count on both hands the number of times I have encountered a seahorse while at the beach.  Most encounters have been while seining.  I cannot count on both hands how many times I have pulled a seine net here but very few of them did a seahorse encounter occur.  When they did, it was over grassbeds.  In each encounter the animal was lying in the grass not wriggling like the other fish, just lying there.  It would be very easy to miss them discarding it as “grass”.  It makes you wonder how many times I captured one and did not know it.  When we did find one it was VERY exciting.  My students would often scream “I had NO idea they lived here!”.

The seahorse Photo: NOAA

However, if you tried searching for them while snorkeling, which I have, the encounter rate is zero.  But this makes sense.  These animals are so well camouflaged in the grass it would be a miracle to find one just hanging there.  This is by necessity really.  If you have ever watched a seahorse in an aquarium they are not very “fleet of foot”.  Escaping a predator by dashing away is not one of their finer skills.  No, they must blend in and remain motionless if trouble, like a snorkeler, comes by.


But I have seen one while diving.  It was a night dive near the Bob Sikes Bridge on Pensacola Beach about 40 years ago.  We were exploring when my light swung over to see this large seahorse extended from a pipe that was coming out of some debris on the bottom.  I was jubilated and screamed, as best you can while using SCUBA, for my partners to come check this out.  We were all amazed and my interest in these animals increased.


When I attended Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) as an undergraduate student, like many in the 1970s, I thought I would get involved with sharks, but I quickly developed a love for estuaries and my interest in seahorses returned.  I made a visit to the library there and found very little in the literature, at that time, which piqued my interest even more.  My senior year we had to complete a project where we had to collect, and correctly identify, 80 species of fish to pass the class.  I asked the crew of the research vessel at DISL if they had ever found seahorses.  They responded yes and took me to what they called their “seahorse spot”.  We caught some.  It was very cool.  And yes… seahorses do exist here in the wild.


But what is this amazing animal?

What do I mean by this?  As a marine science instructor, I would give my students what are called a lab practical’s.  Assorted marine organisms would be scattered around the room and the students had to give their common name, phylum name, class name, and answer some natural history question I would ask.  Snails are mollusk, mackerel are fish, jellyfish are cnidarians, and then they would come to the seahorse.  Seahorses were… well… seahorses!  What the heck are they?


Many of you may know they are fish.  But over the years of teaching marine science, I found that many students were not sure of that.  The definition of a fish is an animal with a backbone that possesses a scaly body, paired fins (usually), and gills.  Seahorses have all that.  There is a backbone no doubt.  The scales are not as obvious because they are actually fused together in a sort of armor.  The paired fins and gills are there.  Yep… they are fish, but a fish (horse) of a different color.

This seahorse is a species from Indonesia.
Photo: California Sea Grant.

First, they are one of about 13 families of fish in the Gulf of Mexico that lack ventral fins, those on the belly side of their bodies.  Second, they lack a caudal fin (the fish tail) and have a more prehensile tail for grabbing objects.  Third, they swim vertically instead of horizontally as most fish do.  Again, there is nothing about their body design that says “speed”.


Another thing I find fascinating about these animals is their global distribution.  You might recall that the initial focus of this series on Florida panhandle vertebrates was the biogeography of these creatures.  Seahorses are found all over the world.  There are over 350 species of them.  But the interesting question is:  how would a seahorse living in the northern Gulf of Mexico reach Melbourne Australia?  It makes sense that being so far apart there would be such differences in looks and genetics that they would be classified as different species, but how did an animal like a seahorse disperse across a large ocean like the Pacific?

Honestly, I can say the same for ghost crabs, which I found on the beaches of Hawaii.  How did they get there?  But that is another story.


My best guess was the dispersal occurred at a time when the two continents were closer together.  The Pangea days, or some time close to that period.  And as the continents “drifted” the seahorses remained close to their shorelines and moved apart.  They may have been able to “island hop” across coral reefs to other Indonesian Islands, but those here in the United States were long lost relatives that changed in their appearance and lifestyles due to the large separation from others.  That is my two cents anyway.


Hoese and Moore1 list two species of seahorses found here in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  The Lined Seahorse and the Dwarf Seahorse.


The Lined Seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) is the larger of the two, reaching an average length of five inches.  This is the one I found near the Bob Sikes Bridge all those years ago.  Like all seahorses they are well adapted to life in debris where they can grab on to something with their prehensile tail and feed on small zooplankton using their vacuum like tube snout.  Like all seahorses, the males have a brood pouch that holds the fertilized eggs producing live birth – another “live bearer”.  They are usually dark in color, but gold individuals have been reported.  Some have filamentous threads on their bodies making them look even more like plants.  Their biogeographic distribution is amazing.  They are found from Nova Scotia, throughout the tropics, all the way to Argentina.  This suggests few biogeographic barriers, other than substrate to hide in.


The Dwarf Seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae) – also known as the pygmy seahorse – is much smaller, with a mean length of 1.5 inches.  That would qualify as “dwarf” or “pygmy”.  How would you ever find these?   Other than size, the difference between these two are the number of rays (soft spines) in their fins.  They can be counted, but its not fun, especially with a 1.5” seahorse.  This guy prefers high salinity, actually, I have found that most seahorses do.  This one is more tropical in distribution.


There is a third Florida species, the long snout seahorse (Hippocampus redi) that is found on the Atlantic coast, but not in the Gulf.


The strange thing about the seahorses in Florida, has been the declining encounters over the last few decades.  For a creature that seems to have few barriers, they have found trouble somewhere.  Maybe the loss of habitat, maybe a population crash due to the common practice years ago of capture and drying out for tourists to buy.  It could be a change in environmental conditions such as salinity in the Pensacola Bay area.  I am not sure.  The more I write this article, the more my interest in this fish returns.  As many researchers and wildlife managers have mentioned, this is an animal who has “fallen through the cracks”.  People notice the changes in sea turtle and manatee encounters, but not seahorses.  Maybe it is time we pay more attention to them and see how they are doing.  I for one would hate to see the decline of this creature here in the panhandle.




Hoese, H.D., Moore, R.H. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico; Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters.  Texas A&M Press, College Station, TX. Pp. 327.

Silverside Minnows of the Florida Panhandle

Silverside Minnows of the Florida Panhandle

Based on our seine surveys along the beaches of most estuaries in the Florida panhandle, this is one of the most abundant fish in our bays.  No matter the time of year, or the location, estuarine seining usually includes numerous individuals of this group.  It is very apparent the importance they play in the food web of our local bays.

The silverside, or “glass” minnow.
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

Those visiting and recreating in our waters probably are not aware of the numerous individuals of this fish schooling all around them.  They are almost transparent and are often called “glass minnows” because of this.  So, you do not really see them – even if you are snorkeling.  But take a small hand net or a seine net and you will quickly discover they are there – and a lot of them.


They are small three-inch fish that are long, and tube shaped with forked (lunate) tails.  Their bodies have a slight yellow-green appearance on the dorsal side, but much is a whiteish in color or transparent all together.  They do have a broad silver stripe that runs laterally along their body and is where they get their common name “silversides”.  Anchovies also have this “silverside” and are found in the same locations but differ from the silversides in that they have a more “shark looking snout” and only one dorsal fin, compared to the two dorsal fins found on the silversides.


It is apparent this whiteish, transparent color and silver stripe are effective in avoiding predation.  Again, you and I do not see them while we are snorkeling.  But is also apparent that many are consumed due to the large number you find in their schools.  I have found from my seining surveys this fish is often collected on days when no other species are.  The heat of summer, the cool of winter, during and after storms, high humidity, it does not matter – I always captured them.  I have captured them over sandy beaches, over seagrasses, near jetties, and in the muck and mire of salt marshes.  They are literally everywhere.  I also capture them more frequently than I do anchovies, suggesting their importance to the health of the estuarine food web. It is one of the first fish my students learned to identify because of how frequently we caught them.


In the northern Gulf, there are two species found in local estuaries – the rough silverside and the tidewater silverside.  Hoese and Moore1 do report a third species similar to the tidewater silverside that is more tolerant of saltwater.


The Rough Silverside (Membras martinica) is called so because their body scales are serrated and are “rough to the touch”.  This is when you slide your fingers from the back towards the head, your fingers will feel the serrations and it is rough to the touch.


The Tidewater Silverside (Menidia beryllina) is smooth to the touch because their scales lack serrations.  Other than that, these two fish look very similar.  Tidewater silversides seem to be restricted to the shorelines and do not venture to the extended grassbeds off the beach.  The third species mentioned M. peninsulae, is reported to prefer salinities at and above 19 ppt, where the tidewater prefers lower salinities.  There is little else mentioned to distinguish these two, but I have seen both names reported in the scientific literature from researchers sampling our bay.


Both species of silversides have a large biogeographic distribution.  Ranging from the colder waters of New York, all along the eastern seaboard, and the entire Gulf of Mexico.


You may not see them often, but know they are an important part of the estuarine ecology.




Hoese, H.D., Moore, R. H. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico; Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters. Texas A&M Press, College Station TX. Pp. 327.

Poecilids, Livebearing Fish of the Florida Panhandle

Poecilids, Livebearing Fish of the Florida Panhandle

Members of the family Poeciliidae are what many call “livebearers”.  Live bearing meaning they do lay eggs as most fish do, but rather give birth to live young.  But this is not to be confused with live-bearing you find in mammals – which is different.


Most fish lay eggs.  The females and males typically have a courtship ritual that ends with the female’s eggs (roe) being laid on some substrate, or released into the water column, and the male’s sperm (milt) are released over them.  Once fertilized the gelatinous covered eggs begin to develop.


Everything the developing young need to survive is provide within the egg.  The embryo is suspended in a semi-gelatinous fluid called the amnion.  Oxygen and carbon dioxide gas exchange occurs through this amnion and through the gelatinous covering of the egg itself.  Food is provided in the form of yolk, which is found in a sac attached to the embryo.  There is a second sac, the allantois, where waste is deposited. When the yolk is low and the allantois full – it is time to hatch.  This usually occurs in just a few days and often the baby fish (fry) are born with the yolk sac still attached.  Parental care is rare, they are usually on their own.


With “livebearers” in the family Poecillidae it is different.

The males have a modified anal fin called a gonopodium.  They fertilize the roe not externally but rather internally – more like mammals.  The fertilized eggs develop the same as those of other fish.  There is a yolk sac and allantois, and the embryo is covered in amnion within the gelatinous egg covering.  But these eggs are held WITHIN the female, not laid on the substrate or released into the water column.  When they hatch the live fry swim from the mother into the bright new world – hence the term “livebearer”.


There are advantages to this method.  The eggs are protected inside the mother, and she obviously provides parental care to her offspring.  However, this does make her much slower and an easier target for predators.  There is some give and take.


This differs from the “live-bearing” of most mammals in that there is still an egg.  Mammals do still have a yolk sac but feeding and removing waste is done THROUGH THE MOTHER.  Meaning the embryo is attached to the mother via an umbilical cord where the mother provides food and removes waste trough her placenta.  There is no classic egg in this case.  I say most mammals because there are two who live in Australia that still do lay eggs – the platypus and the spiny anteater, and the marsupials (kangaroos and opossums) are a little different as well – but marsupials do no lay eggs.


Biologists have terms for these.  Oviparous are vertebrates that lay eggs – such as fish, frogs, turtles, and birds.  Ovoviviparous are vertebrates that produce eggs but keep them within the mother where they hatch – such as some sharks, some snakes, and the live bearing fish we are talking about here.  Then there are the viviparous vertebrates that do not have an egg but rather the embryo is attached, and fed by, the mother herself – like most mammals.

Sailfin Molly. The male is the fish above with the large “sailfin”. Note the gonopodium on his ventral side.
Photo: University of Florida

The livebearers of the family Poeciliidae are ovoviviparous.  They are primarily small freshwater fish that are very popular in the aquarium trade.  But there are two species that can tolerate saltwater and enter the estuaries of the northern Gulf of Mexico: the sailfin molly and the mosquitofish.


The Sailfin Molly (Poecilia latipinna) is the same fish sold in aquarium stores as the black molly.  The black phase is quite common in freshwater habitats, but in the estuarine marshes the fish is more of a gray color with lateral stripes that is made up of a series of dots.  They are short-stout bodied fish and the males possess the large sail-like dorsal fin from which the species gets its common name.  The females resemble the males albeit no large sailfin and most found are usually round and full of developing eggs.  They are very common in local salt marshes and often found in isolated pools within these habitats.  The biogeographic range of this species is restricted to the southern United States, reported from South Carolina throughout the Gulf of Mexico.  One would guess temperature may be a barrier to their dispersal further north along the Atlantic seaboard.

The mosquitofish.
Photo: University of Florida

The Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) is familiar to many people whether they know it or not.  Those who know the fish know they are famous for the habit of consuming mosquito larva and some, including our county mosquito control unit, use them to control these unwanted flying insects.  For those who may they are not familiar with it, this is the fish frequently seen in roadside ditches, ephemeral ponds that show up after rainstorms, retention ponds, and other scattered bodies of freshwater within the community.  Most who see them call them “minnows”.  There is always the question as to “where did they come from?”  You have a vacant lot – it rains one day – these small fish show up – where did they come from?  The same can be said for community retention ponds.  The county comes in a digs a hole – it rains one day, and the retention pond fills – and there are fish in it.  One explanation to their source is the movement of fish by wading birds, where the fish incidentally become attached to their feet.  Again, they are often released intentionally to help control local mosquito populations.  This fish is found in our coastal estuaries but does not seem to like saltwater as well as the sailfin molly.  It is found in cooler water ranging throughout the Gulf and as far north as New Jersey.


Both of these fish make excellent aquarium pets, and the sailfin molly in particular can be beautiful to watch.




Hoese, H.D., Moore, R.H. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico; Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters. Texas A&M Press, College Station TX. Pp. 327.

Clingfish of the Florida Panhandle

Clingfish of the Florida Panhandle

This series on vertebrates of the Florida panhandle is to enhance your education of the different animals that call this place home.  This is the only reason to include clingfish to this list… to enhance your education.


There are about 500 species of fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  We I began this series I had no intention of writing about all of them.  I was going to focus on the more common and familiar, such as snappers and mackerels.  Things like the clingfish were to be skipped over.  But when I saw this family next on the list, I could not skip over this one.  You see, this is actually a pretty common fish that you many have already encountered and followed by asking “what kind of fish is this?”  So, we will include our friend the clingfish.

Photo: University of Washington

It belongs to the family Gobiesocidae and, in the northern Gulf of Mexico, there is only one resident species, Gobiesox strumosus, known as the clingfish or skilletfish.  They are called this because their body shape resembles a cast iron skillet, roundish head with an extended tail and dark in color.  The often-used clingfish name comes from the sucker apparatus they form on the ventral side of their body to cling to rocks and inside of shells – where they are most often found.  Hoese and Moore1 report only one species from the northern Gulf but suggest there could be more on the offshore reefs.


The local skilletfish is reported to reach a mean length of three inches.  I have only seen a few of these and the ones I found were smaller than this.  They are dark in color, often with stripes or streaks, and can be all black – the ones I have found were all black.  The ones I have found are inside dead oyster shells associated with oyster reefs.  You may find a random oyster clump on the bottom.  You just pick it up, look inside the opened shells and open the dead shells, and you may find one.  They have been reported associated with rocks, pipes, and other structures on the bottom.


This species does have a large geographic range, suggesting few barriers to dispersal.  They are found from New Jersey to Brazil and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.


There is no commercial value for the animal, no cool natural history facts, just an small fish that you may come across while playing in the Gulf that you might ask – “what kind of fish is this?”  Now you know, it’s the clingfish.




1 Hoese, H. D., Moore, R.H. 1977. Fishes of the Northern Gulf of Mexico; Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters. Texas A&M Press. College Station TX. Pp. 327.

Toadfish of the Florida Panhandle

Toadfish of the Florida Panhandle

This is a group of fish that few have heard of and many have not seen – or if they saw them, had NO idea what they were – but they a very common in our local waters… the toadfish.


Once you see one, you will know why they call it this.  Recently we had a matching game set up for the public to try and match the name of a common seagrass animal with its photograph.  The toadfish was one of 20 species on the board.  Few knew what it was and most only matched it with the photo through a process of elimination.  A common response was “well… this MUST be the toadfish”, though there were just as many who did not see the connection between the name and the look on this fish’s face.


All that said, they are very common here.  Snorkeling in our bays I have found them hiding in burrows within the grassbeds, snug against a seawall, and in open spaces within a rock jetty.  They are known to hide inside discarded cans and bottles, feeding and eventually growing to large to be able to leave!


They are known for their painful bites; I have personally experienced this.  We have captured them when seining the grassbeds.  Trying to remove them from the net they are very slimy and difficult to grab.  If you get close to their mouth, they will use the teeth they have.  Others have been bitten when exploring the inside of a can or bottle left on the bottom.   Toadfish belong to the family Batrachoididae and some members of this family are highly venomous.  However, of the three species found in the northern Gulf, only the midshipman (Porichthys porosissimus) possess venom, and it is not harmful to humans.


I guess in a word you could say these are ugly fish – hence their name.  They are all benthic and remain on the bottom at all times.  Most of the swimming they do is to a new hiding place, where they ambush their prey.  There are three species found in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

The Atlantic Midshipman
Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The Atlantic Midshipman (Porichthys porosissimus) is a light tan colored fish with dark brown blotches along its side.  Because of their light color, they are more common on light colored sand.  The ones I have found are on the nearshore bottom of the Gulf side of our barrier island.  They posses rows of photophores, cells that can produce light, and these rows of photophores resemble the rows of bright buttons on the 19th century midshipman’s naval uniform – hence their name.  This fish has a mean length of eight inches.  The midshipman has a more extensive range than the typical “Carolina” Gulf fish.  They can be found from Virginia all the way to Argentina; beyond the Brazil limit most “Carolina” fish have.  Though not reported on the other side of the Atlantic, nor the Pacific, this species seems to have few barriers impeding its dispersal.

The leopard toadfish.
Photo: Flickr

The Leopard Toadfish (Opsanus pardus) is a larger toadfish reaching 12 inches.  They too have a light-colored body with dark markings.  It prefers reefs and rocky areas offshore.  The only ones I have seen, or captured, were on our artificial reefs.  It was noted early on in the lionfish invasion, that lionfish were not as numerous on reefs where leopard toadfish existed.  This spawned a hypothesis that leopard toadfish may actually consume lionfish.  A small study conducted at a local high school marine science program found that was not the case.  I am not aware of any further studies on the relationship between these two, but it could be they just compete for space and the leopard toadfish wins some of these.  Though not reported from Argentina, this species does have a large range – including the entire U.S. Atlantic seaboard, the entire Gulf of Mexico, and much of the Caribbean.  Again, few barriers to their dispersal.

The common estuarine Gulf toadfish.
Photo: Flickr

The most frequently encountered toadfish is the Gulf Toadfish (Opsanus beta) – also know as the oyster dog, dogfish, or mudfish.  This is the largest of the native toadfish at 15 inches.  It is most common inside our estuaries living on oyster reefs, burrows in seagrass beds, jetties, and any sunken debris such as pipes, concrete, or pilings.  Because of its habitat choice, this toadfish is much darker in color, having some light bars or markings on its side.  This is the species that is sometimes found in sunken bottles and cans.  This is a Gulf species found throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and some portions of the West Indies, but absent from most of the Caribbean and the Atlantic coast where it is replaced by its close cousin Opsanus tau.  There does seem to be a barrier near the Florida straits that impedes its dispersal east and north of the Gulf.  There are two species on each side suggesting a long period of isolation from each other and no interbreeding.  Again, there is a barrier there.


I am not sure whether you have seen any of the local toadfish while snorkeling or diving.  They are occasionally caught on rod and reel, but not often.  However, now that you know about them, I am sure you will see one while out on the waters.




Hoese, H.D., R.H. Moore. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico; Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters.  Texas A&M Press, College Station TX. Pp. 327.