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October 26, 2001

Jawfish

This large-mouthed oddity left some Florida anglers wondering.

Q: I caught this small fish at the mouth of the Caloosahatchie River in Cape Coral, Florida. It looks like a cross between an eel and a sea robin. What is it? - Raymond D. Kelly, Wading River, New York

A: It's a spotfin jawfish (Opistognathus sp.) found in coastal waters around south Florida, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas. It's distinguished from other jawfish by the round "eye spot" on the front part of the dorsal fin. Its body is dark brown with scattered white spots, and the anal and pelvic fins are blackish. The spotfin grows to about 6 inches in length. Most other jawfish living in the same area reach only about 4 inches.
Jawfish are known for their very large heads and mouths, protruding eyes and long, delicate dorsal fins. Rarely caught by sport fishermen, jawfish are most popular in the saltwater aquarium trade because of their bright colors and interesting, aggressive behavior. Bottom dwellers, jawfish build holes lined with pebbles and shell fragments where they hide and defend their homes. In spawning season, the males brood balls of eggs in their mouths.