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October 25, 2001

Snappers of the World

How many snappers can you name? Compare your answers with those of Sport Fishing's expert.

Q: I'm interested in snappers, particularly the giant cuberas. How many species of snappers are there, how many do we have in the U.S., and how big do they get? Also, where did the name "cubera" come from? - Jack Hunter, Winter Park, Florida

A: Around the world, the snapper family, Lutjanidae, has about 250 different species divided into 25 genera. At least 15 species reside in North American waters, and 10 of these are assigned to the genus Lutjanus, including the mutton, silk, red, blackfin, mahogany, lane, gray, schoolmaster, dog and cubera snappers. Each of the other five snappers - wenchman, vermilion, black, queen and yellowtail - is assigned its own genus, but the newest studies place at least the yellowtail with the others in the genus Lutjanus.
Cuberas are the largest snappers by far. The Pacific cubera snapper (L. novemfasciatus) looks quite like the cubera snapper (L. cyanopterus) of the western Atlantic, the "river" or "mangrove red" snapper (L. argentimaculatus) of the western Indo-Pacific and an African snapper (Lutjanus spp.). These snappers grow to sizes approaching or exceeding 100 pounds. All have deep reddish bodies, large canine teeth, stubby gill rakers, and almost identical body and fin shapes, habitat and behavior. These similarities suggest the existence of a worldwide complex of large cubera-type snappers that may be more closely related to each other than to other members of the genus Lutjanus.
It's not certain where the name cubera originated, but the species is common in the waters off the island of Cuba, and one of its oldest common names is "Cuban snapper."