Species Description: The body of the bonefish, Albula vulpes, is elongate, fusiform and slightly compressed with a rounded belly (Smith 2002). Coloration is silvery with a bluish to greenish tint on the back, dark streaks between the scale rows on the upper half of the body, and a white belly (Robins et al. 1986). The head is conical in shape, scaleless and blackish in color near the tip of the snout. From a profile view, the mouth is small and does not extend as far back as the eye. Scales on the body are small to moderate, numbering 60-90 in the lateral line. The dorsal fin is located around the midline of the body, with 16-21 soft rays and no spines. The anal fin is positioned far behind the dorsal fin and bears 7-9 soft rays. Pelvic and pectoral fins are located low on the body, and the caudal fin is deeply forked. Juveniles are similar to adults, with sandy coloration above and 9 narrow crossbands (Smith 2002).
Potentially Misidentified Species: The classification of Albula is in contention, and mounting evidence suggests that populations once identified as A. vulpes may actually be several distinct regional species (Smith 2002). However, the fish described here as A. vulpes is presently considered the only Albula species found in and around the Indian River Lagoon.
Regional Occurrence: The range of A. vulpes extends from southern Florida through the Bahamas and Caribbean south to Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean (Smith 2002). Small schools of juveniles and solitary adults are found around sand and mud flats, in surf zones off sandy beaches, and among mangrove roots (Robins et al. 1986; Smith 2002; Félix et al. 2007).
IRL Distribution: Little information is available concerning the distribution of the bonefish in the IRL, but they can likely be found throughout the lagoon on submerged tidal flats and among mangrove roots where they are sought after as a popular sport fish (see ‘Economic Importance.’)
Age, Size, Lifespan: The maximum recorded size for the bonefish is 104 cm and 18 pounds (8.1 kg), although most specimens rarely exceed 10 lbs. (Robins et al. 1986). Lifespan varies with environmental conditions and other factors.
Reproduction & Embryology: Bonefish move offshore to spawn, and larvae are found in open ocean waters (Smith 2002). The leptocephalus larvae of A. vulpes appear similar to those of eels, but with a forked caudal fin.
Temperature & Salinity: Little information is available concerning the physical tolerances of A. vulpes. However, its natural range encompasses marine and estuarine habitats in tropical and subtropical climate zones. This pattern of distribution suggests that bonefish populations prefer and/or require warm, saline waters in order to thrive.
Trophic Mode: Bonefish are benthic predators, feeding on mollusks, crustaceans and infaunal worms. Fish often leave tracks in the sand and mud and their tails frequently break the surface on the water as they feed (Robins et al. 1986; Smith 2002).
Predators: Predators of A. vulpes include larger fishes such as the lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris, and the great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda (Danylchuk et al. 2007).
Associated Species: Although there are no obligate associations documented between the bonefish and other species, A. vulpes is commonly found alongside organisms from the various coastal marine and estuarine habitats in which it resides. For more extensive information on these ecosystems and their associated species found in and around the IRL, please visit Habitats of the IRL.
Special Status: None
Economic Importance: Because of its speed and cautious disposition, the bonefish has become a popular sport fish in Florida. The meat of A. vulpes is not widely consumed, pushing the recreational fishery toward a catch-and-release practice (Danylchuk et al. 2007). Despite these seemingly eco-friendly fishing methods, some evidence suggests that any catch-and-release practices that disrupt the equilibrium of the fish can increase post-release predation (Danylchuk et al. 2007). On July 1st, 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission revised recreational fishing regulations for bonefish, allowing the collection of only one 18” or greater fish in ‘whole condition’ per person per day, a limit that extends into federal waters off the coast (FWCC 2010). The commercial harvest or sale of A. vulpes has been prohibited since 1972.
Danylchuk, SE, Danylchuk, AJ, Cooke, SJ, Goldberg, TL, Koppelman, J & DP Philipp. 2007. Effects of recreational angling on the post-release behavior and predation of bonefish (Albula vulpes): the role of equilibrium status at the time of release. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 346: 127-133.
Félix, FC, Spach, HL, Moro, PS, Schwarz Jr., R, Santos, C, Hackradt, CW & M Hostim-Silva. 2007. Utilization patterns of surf zone inhabiting fish from beaches in Southern Brazil. Pan-Amer. J. Aquat. Sci. 2: 27-39.
FWCC. 2010. Florida Saltwater Fishing Regulations. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/.
Humston, R, Ault, JS, Larkin, MF & J Luo. 2005. Movements and site fidelity of the bonefish Albula vulpes in the northern Florida Keys determined by acoustic telemetry. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 291: 237-248.
Nagelkerken, I, van der Velde, G, Verberk, WCEP & M Dorenbosch. 2006. Segregation along multiple resource axes in a tropical seagrass fish community. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 308: 79-89.
Smith, DG. 2002. Albuliformes. pp. 683-684. In: The living marine resources of the Western Central Atlantic. Volume 2: Bony fishes part 1 (Acipenseridae to Grammatidae). Carpenter KE (Ed.). FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes and American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists special publication no. 5. FAO, Rome. pp. 601-1374.
Robins CR, Ray GC, and J Douglas. 1986. A Field Guide to Atlantic Coast Fishes. The Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 354 pp.