Species Description: The white grunt, Haemulon plumierii, is a member of Family Haemulidae. The body color is yellowish and the head is marked with alternating narrow blue and yellow stripes, some of which continue onto the body. The scales above the lateral line are larger than below and each is marked with a large, pale or light blueish dot arranged in five oblique rows. The inside of the mouth is red. Spine and ray counts are as follows: D = Xii, 15-17; A = III 8-9; P = 16-17 (Hoese and Moore 1977, Robbins et al. 1986, Rocha and Rosa 1999). The vocalizations that give grunts their common name are produced by stridulation (scraping together) of pharyngeal teeth, and amplified by the swim bladder, which functions as a resonator (Burkenroad 1930).
Potentially Misidentified Species: The descriptive details provided above are sufficient to differentiate white grunts from co-occurring haemulids.
Regional Occurrence: White grunts occur from Maryland and Bermuda south to Mexico and Brazil, and into the Gulf of Mexico (Robbins et al. 1986).
IRL Distribution: White grunts occur throughout the IRL system.
Age, Size, Lifespan: White grunt may reach a total length of around 53 cm total length.
They are also reportedly long-lived, with individuals often living 9-12 years and in some cases as much as 18 years (Murie and Parkyn 2005, FWRI 2006). Fishery-related mortality is high. Murie and Parkyn (2002) estimate an annual mortality of 0.30 for stocks from the eastern Gulf of Mexico, based on harvester surveys.
Abundance: Sedberry and Carter (1993) indicate Haemulon plumierii was the sixth most abundant fish species they collected in trawl samples taken from a Belize tropical lagoon. Grunts in general were the single most abundant family in this study.
Reproduction: Padgett (1997) reports that 50% of females reach maturity at 167 mm TL, and 50% of males reach maturity at 180 mm TL. Western Florida white grunts have been reported to spawn once per year, but oocyte analysis reveals that they are more likely batch spawners with peak spawning activity occurring in May (Murie and Parkyn 1999). Spawning appears to occur almost year-round in the southernmost portions of the distributional range (Munro et al. 1973).
Embryology: The following developmental information is based on descriptions of laboratory-reared white grunt presented in Saksena Richards (1975). Eggs are reported to be just under 1 mm in diameter, and each contains a single oil droplet. Apparently newly fertilized eggs hatched within 20 hours of collection at an incubation temperature of around 24°C. 48 hours post-hatching, the yolk sac and oil droplet is almost completely absorbed and larvae begin active feeding. Larvae then undergo rapid development with all fin rays present at 9.5 mm SL. The caudal fin develops first, followed in order by the anal and second dorsal, first dorsal, pelvics, and pectorals. Larval growth is most rapid the first 30 days, declining thereafter. By the time they reach a length of around 24-39 mm SL, around 100 days post-hatching, individuals had a full complement of gill rakers and had largely acquired the pigmentation pattern characteristic for the species.
Temperature: Although Haemulon plumierii is listed as a tropical to warm-temperate (de Silva ad Murphy 2001), Chapman et al. (1999) used genetic analysis to differentiate three geographically distinct lineages. The northern lineage occurs from Maryland/Virginia and Bermuda and the Carolinas south to the Florida Keys and Panama City (Hoese and Moore 1977, Robbins et al. 1986). It is genetically distinct from southern populations from the Florida Keys to Yucatan, Belize, and Puerto Rico and from Trinadad. The northern lineage is considerably more resistant to low temperature effects, and is capable of persisting in warm-temperate coastal waters. The existence of these distinct lineages helps explain the apparent disparity between the relatively broad distribution of H. plumierii and its occurrence in the historic records of animals succumbing to lethal cold water temperatures. Galloway (1941) lists whit grunt as among the species stunned and killed by record low water temperatures (57°F) in Key West in late January, 1940.
Salinity: Although they are capable of thriving in oceanic reef environments as well as estuarine habitats, Lindeman and Toxey (2002) note that Haemulids in general are only rarely encountered at very low salinities.
Trophic Mode: Detailed dietary information for white grunts is scarce. Juveniles are reported to feed primarily on benthic invertebrates including crustaceans, worms, and molluscs. Adults likely consume similar, if somewhat larger, invertebrate prey including shrimp, crabs, and molluscs (Meyer and Schulz 1985, Darcy 1983, Sierra et al.1994). Randall (1967) reports the occurrence of brittlestar Ophiothrix spp. body parts in the stomachs of H. plumierii from the West Indies.
Predators: A number of piscivorous fish species are likely to prey on certain life history stages of white grunt. Randall (1967) cited dog snappers (Lutjanus jocu) as a major predator of white grunts.
Parasites: Manter (1942) reports that the trematodes Genolopa ampullaca, Proctotrema truncatum, Monorchis latus are common parasitse of white grunts and other haemulids in south Florida. The trematode Brachadena pyriformis is also known to infest H. plumierii and other grunts (Overstreet 1973).
Habitats: White grunts can be found in a variety of habitats, including in and around coral reefs, mangrove creeks, seagrass beds, and in sand-rubble zones (Sedberry and Carter 1993). Springer and McErlean (1962) note that Haemulon plumierii was among the most abundant fish species on the south Florida reefs he surveyed. This author used a tag and recapture strategy to determine that reef-associated white grunts rarely stray from their home reef area (including adjacent grassbeds) and will often successfully return to the home reef if they are transplanted to a different reef. Bardach (1958) suggested that individuals typically remained in the same area for their entire lives. Both schooling (Bardach 1958) and solitary (Springer and McErlean 1962) behavior has been observed in reef-associated animals. Meyer and Schulz (1985) describe dense resting aggregations over reefs, and McLean and Herrnkind (1971) report compact schooling during mass movement of H. plumierii and other grunts off of North Bimini, Bahamas, in the wake of a prolonged northeast storm. The home-ranging information above notwithstanding, Randall (1967) reports a seasonal winter decrease in the number of white grunts captured in the Florida Keys, but concede that this drop may be due to decreased fish activity as well as decreased abundance.
Activity Time: Meyer and Schulz (1985) note that juvenile reef-associated white grunts typically rest over coral colonies by day and venture out into adjacent seagrass beds only at night to feed.
Economic/Ecological Importance: Haemulon plumierii is an edible species and a sizeable incidental fishery exists for this species in Florida. Most white grunts taken by the Florida commercial and recreational fisheries come from the west coast (Murphy et al. 1999). In parts of the Caribbean, white grunts and other reef species are captured and consumed as sustenance species, a practice that Coblentz (1997) considers non-sustainable. The findings of Meyer and Schulz (1985) demonstrate that juvenile white grunts can be important in the transfer of nutrients and organic matter (in the form of excretory products and fecal material) from seagrass feeding grounds to daytime resting reefs.
References: Bardach JE. 1958. On the movements of certain Bermuda reef fishes. Ecology 39:139-146. Burkenroad MD. 1930. Sound production in the Haemulidae. Copeia 1930: 1930:17-18.
Coblentz BE. 1997. Subsistence consumption of coral reef fish suggests non-sustainable extraction. Conservation Biology 11:559-561.
Darcy GH. 1983. Synopsis of biological data on the Grunts Haemulon aurolineatum and H. plumieri (Pisces: Haemulidae). NOAA Technical Report NMFS Circular 448. FAO Fish. Synopsis,133. 37 p.
de Silva JA and MD Murphy. 2001. A summary of the status of white grunt Haemulon plumieri from the east coast of Florida. IHR 2001-001. Report to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Florida Marine Research Institute, St. Petersburg, FL. 18 p. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, FWRI. 2006. Grunts. 11 p.
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Manter HW. 1942. Monorchidae (Trematoda) from fishes of Tortugas, Florida. Transactions of the American Microscopical Society 61:349-360. McLean R and WF Herrnkind. 1971. Compact schooling during a mass movement by grunts. Copeia, 1971:328-330.
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Murphy MD, Murie DJ, and RG Muller. 1999. Stock assessment of white grunt from the west coast of Florida. Report to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 56 p.
Overstreet RM. 1973. Some species of Lecithaster Luhe, 1901 (Digenea: Hemiuridae) and related genera from fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Transactions of the American Microscopical Society 92:231-240.
Padgett SM. 1997. Age, growth, and reproductive biology of the white grunt, Haemulon plumieri along the southeast Atlantic coast of the United States. Unpublished Master's thesis, University of Charleston, South Carolina.
Randall JE. 1967. Food habits of reef fishes of the West Indies. Studies in Tropical Oceanography (Miami) 5:665-847.
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 p.
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Saksena VP and WJ Richards. 1975. Description of eggs and larvae of laboratory-reared white grunt, Haemulon plumieri (Lacepede) (Pisces, Pomadasyidae). Bulletin of Marine Science 25:523-536.
Sierra LM, Claro R, and OA Popova. 1994. Alimentacion y relaciones troficas. Pp. 263-319 in: Claro R (Ed.). Ecologia de Los Peces Marinos de Cuba, Academia de Ciencas de Cuba y Centro de Investigaciones de Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Springer VG and AJ McErlean. 1962. A study of the behavior of some tagged south Florida coral reef fishes. American Midland Naturalist 67:386-397.