The yellowtail snapper, also known as surgeonfish, is a saltwater fish native to the coastal areas of central and South America. It is a fairly large fish, reaching up to thirty or forty pounds and with a length of about three feet. It has a gray, brick-like body with a yellowish belly, gray fins and pointed tail. Males are larger than females.
Like most other snappers, the yellowtail snapper has few predators. These include a few barracuda, sailfish, rooster fish, and wahoo. They also eat smaller fish common in the vicinity such as channel catfish, red snapper, flounder, bluefish, and sometimes sculpin. In their native waters, these fish commonly found in such foods as small frogs, leeches, crabs, sand dollars and other snails. They also consume berries, nuts, seeds, small fish and algae. They primarily live in slow moving and deep water in tropical and subtropical regions.
This fish is seldom studied in captivity, and like many marine species has very few recorded specimens. Very few specimens have ever been seen alive in a tank. Very few specimens may even be seen in nature, and they generally do not reproduce well. It is believed, however, that they were introduced into the Southern Pacific by American whalers. Through genetic analysis, it was determined that the species chrysurus had originated in warmer waters off South America and was first recorded in a specimen taken from waters off the Pacific Coast by Captain James Cook in 1720.
Over the years, many different varieties have come to light, all having slightly varying characteristics. There are about two hundred total species of yellowtail snapper, with many different variations in color, size and patterning. Some are quite distinctive, having yellow stripes down their back; others are nearly white, with spots on their dorsal fins.
Although most yellowtail snapper varieties are small fishes, some are larger. The largest specimens are generally between eight to ten inches in length, with specimens as large as fifteen inches being caught. Typically, they are caught because of their beautiful colors, especially the yellow stripe down the upper sides of the body and the yellow wedge-shaped marking behind the head.
There are several differences between yellowtail snapper in Florida and those caught commercially. For starters, there is no clean water; instead, all the fish are born in saltwater. Also, due to their preferred diet of small fish, they are not very popular in commercial catches. Instead, they are often raised on reefs or in areas where they can grow to a reasonable size. Finally, the meat from these animals is not very marketable, and their fatty tissues are used for medical purposes. This results in them having very low protein content.
Yellowtail snappers vary slightly in their appearance, being sometimes mistaken for rock shrimp or barracuda, though they have completely distinct features. With dark-colored bodies and light colored heads, they look more like bottlenose dolphins than anything else. Their bright yellow fins are wide, tapering to about half an inch in length, and they also have powerful tails that finish off their bodies. In order to avoid injury, the fish will fold their brightly colored fins around the body once they react to a lure. Although this behavior can be annoying to fishermen, they are an excellent choice for large game fish such as bass, and the lack of bites off the surface gives them a chance to easily go after smaller fish that might try to steal the bait.
Yellowtail snappers are a great fish to bring along for deep sea fishing. They are generally found on reefs at depths below 50 feet, where they live in schools called reefs colonies. These groups can reach a size of up to twelve feet across, depending on the number of yellowtail snappers within a colony. These fish are excellent swimmers and can move from one area of the reef to another quickly and easily, using their strong tails as oars. It is important to note that these snappers can also be found in open ocean waters, where they are often found lurking in shallow waters looking for prey.