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Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus

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Description & Behavior

Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1847), are large, beautiful, silvery fish that reach up to 2.5 m and weigh up to 161 kg. Their average life span is 55 years.

Other scientific names (synonyms) include: Tarpon atlanticus (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1847), Clupea gigantea (Shaw, 1804) and Clupea thrissoides (Bloch and Schneider, 1801).

Their dorsal fin is located at mid-body and their anal fin is at their posterior (rear) end. Their pectoral fins are low on their body. Tarpon have very large scales with 37-42 scales along their lateral line. Their coloring is bluish-gray on their dorsal (upper) side with very bright silvery sides. They possess a swim bladder attached to their esophagus which enables them to live in oxygen-poor (hypoxic) brackish waters.

Tarpon are a favorite fish of sport fishermen and are known for their spectacular leaps when hooked in an attempt to get away. Their flesh is very bony. The world record for a tarpon caught using a hook and line is 128 kgs from Lake Maricaibo, Venezuela. When afraid, the tarpon produces sound in the form of thumps using their swim bladder.

World Range & Habitat

Tarpon are wide-ranging found in shallow coastal waters, bays, estuaries, mangrove-lined lagoons, and rivers in the Eastern Atlantic: Senegal to Angola, with occasional sightings off the coast of Portugal, the Azores, and the Atlantic coast of southern France. In the Western Atlantic they are found in: North Carolina, USA to Bahia, Brazil, with occasional occurrences off the North American coast in Nova Scotia and Canada. They are also found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and in the Eastern Central Pacific off Coiba Island, Panama having come through the Panama Canal. Large schools may frequent particular spots for years.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Tarpon employ different feeding techniques depending on their stage of growth and development. Stage I larvae absorb nutrients directly from seawater. Stage II and III larvae, and small juveniles, consume zooplankton (copepods and ostracods), insects, and small fish. As tarpon mature, they prey on fish, particularly mid-water prey such as mullets, pinfish, marine catfishes, Atlantic needlefish, sardines, as well as shrimp and crabs. Tarpon feed during both the day and the night. Because of their small teeth, they generally swallow their prey whole.

Life History

Adult female tarpon produce over 12 million eggs at a time, spawning occurs annually.

Tarpon are prey for zooplankton during their egg and larval stages and for birds as juveniles in nursery areas. Humans and sharks are the primary predators of adult tarpon, however, they have also been observed being preyed upon by porpoises and even alligators.

Conservation Status & Comments

Tarpons' large scales are used in ornamental work and in the preparation of artificial pearls. There have been reports of ciguatera poisoning from eating tarpon.

References & Further Research

Tarpon - Megalops atlanticus, Florida Museum of Natural History

Research Megalops atlanticus » Barcode of Life ~ Taxonomy ~ BioOne ~ Biodiversity Heritage Library ~ CITES ~ Cornell Macaulay Library [audio / video] ~ Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ~ ESA Online Journals ~ FishBase ~ Florida Museum of Natural History ~ GBIF ~ Google Scholar ~ ITIS ~ IUCN RedList (Threatened Status) ~ Marine Species Identification Portal ~ NCBI (PubMed, GenBank, etc.) ~ Ocean Biogeographic Information System ~ PLOS ~ SIRIS ~ Tree of Life Web Project ~ UNEP-WCMC Species + Database ~ WoRMS

Search for Tarpon » ARKive ~ Flickr ~ Google ~ Creative Commons search ~ Wikipedia ~ YouTube

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