The Bonefish – Warm Water Resident
Bonefish have been given their name due to the numerous, tiny bones that are contained within their bodies. As a result of these, they are very difficult to eat and are caught mainly for sport. Bonefishing (as the pastime is called) is a catch-and-release sport popular in Florida and the Bahamas. Those that engage in it enjoy the skill required to lure this cautious creature in, and the fight that it puts up once hooked. This can be very stressful for the fish, and those that partake are encouraged to be considerate. The bonefish is not currently on any endangered species list, due to the fact that the majority of them are released once caught.
Bonefish are silvery in colour, with an elongated snout and yellow at the base of their pectoral fins. Normally surviving for between 19 and 23 years, they reach sexual maturity at ages 3 or 4. Preferring warmer coastal waters, in addition to Florida and the Bahamas, bonefish are usually found near Africa and Hawaii. They live primarily in shallow waters near coasts, in mangroves and around mouths of rivers. Possessing a lung-like swim bladder that enables them to breathe easier in shallow water, they get closer to the shore as winter approaches. Most of the fish spawn between November and May, usually laying their eggs in mangroves. After the eel-shaped larvae hatch, they remain here until they acquire the shape of an adult fish to enable them to venture into deeper waters.
It is believed that bonefish do not stop growing and the older ones can become as long as three feet. Hunted by shark and barracuda, the silvery fish has become adept at slithering away at the first sign of danger. They live in schools of between 40 – 400, starting off at higher numbers which decrease as the members get older and bigger. The larger fish live in deeper waters, while the young live closer to the coast moving with the tide in order to feed.
Following stingrays to catch the small animals that they root up, bonefish feed on crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs, molluscs and other fish. They use their long snout to dig up their prey, and hold them down, until the pharyngeal teeth that are located in the back of the mouth can align themselves with the meal. The prey is crushed at the back of its throat, and swallowed. When it catches prey in shallow waters, a bonefish appears to be standing on its nose while using its weight to restrict the struggling morsel. This causes their tail to be visible above the water, and observers normally refer to this feeding process as ‘bonefish tailing.’