roupers, members o one o thelargest amilies o shes oundin Florida waters, run thegamut o sizes and shapes, romthe diminutive graysby weighingseveral pounds to the mammothgoliath grouper that can tip the scales at 600 poundsor more. Grouper are an important commercial andrecreational commodity in Florida. Broiled, ried, orspicy “blackened” grouper is a staple on the menuso seaood restaurants.
“Grouper” is thought to be a corruption o “garoupa,”a perch-like sh ound in Portugal. Groupers, alongwith sea basses and hamlets, are in the seabass amily,which is called Serranidae. Worldwide, there are over400 species o serranids; 61 o these are in NorthAmerica, and more than 40 are ound in Floridawaters.In general, groupers are oblong, large, and stout.Their small scales usually have a saw-toothed edge,and their ns are coarse and spiny. The massive,underslung jaws o these carnivores harbor strongteeth, and many species have two canine teeth at theront o each jaw. Three spines on each bony platecovering the gills require care when handling.Groupers, like chameleons, vary in color accordingto species, habitat, water depth, age, reproductiveseason, or stress. Because the dierent species are sosimilar in appearance, identication can be conusing.As with most sh, the skin pigments ade when the shis removed rom the water. Ten grouper species thatare ound in Florida are described below.
Although similar in appearance to the gag, the blackgrouper has a more vivid color pattern that includesbrassy, bronze spots on the sideo the head and body and,sometimes, dark, rectangularblotches running the length o theback. Its ns are bordered in black.Black grouper may reach over 4eet and 180 pounds. They have been seen ormingspawning aggregations near the Florida Keys.
The gag’s brownish-gray body is covered with thin,dark, wormlike markings oten grouped in blotchesthat give the sh a marbled look. Its pelvic, anal, andtail ns are dark; the anal and tail ns sometimes havea white outer margin. It may reach over 4 eet and 70pounds, but most are much smaller. Juveniles inhabitestuarine seagrass beds beore moving into nearshoreand oshore waters. Adults orm spawning aggregationson oshore ledge habitats o the West Florida Shel.The gag is oten mistaken or black grouper.
The giant o the grouper amily, the goliath (ormerlycalled jewsh) has brown or yellow mottling with smallblack spots on the head and ns and has a gargantuanmouth with jawbones that extend well past its smalleyes. Its tail is rounded, and ve irregular, dark side-bands are most visible on juveniles. They can reachwhopping lengths o 8 eet or more, and the Floridarecord goes to a 680-pound goliath caught oFernandina Beach in 1961. Once a popular target oshermen, they are now protected rom all harvest inFlorida. They are opportunistic predators and eedmostly on slow-moving, bottom-associated speciessuch as crabs. Goliath groupers, even juveniles, canmake sounds and are known to make booming noisesto warn o intruders. Goliaths are particularly noisyduring the new moon.
Chameleons of the Sea
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionFish and Wildlife Research Institute