Species Description: The false herring, Harengula clupeola, is one of several schooling bait fishes in Florida belonging to the family Clupeidae. Species from this group are characterized by several features, including: small, fusiform to subcylindrical bodies; pelvic scutes; and a terminal mouth with a short, deep lower jaw (Munroe & Nizinski 2002). The body of H. clupeola is moderately compressed and silvery in color with a dark greenish back (Robins et al. 1986). A pale yellow or orange spot is present near the top bone of the gill cover, called the opercle. Tips of the caudal fin may be dusky in color (Munroe & Nizinski 2002). Unlike other Harengula species, the dorsal fin is a similar coloration throughout, the jaw lacks a yellowish tint, and the scales are not easily shed (see “Potentially Misidentified Species” below). A series of ventral scutes (29-32, usually 30-31) line the abdomen on both sides of the pelvic fin, which bears 7 branched fin rays. Along with the dorsal fin, the pelvic fin is slightly anterior to the midpoint of the body.
Regional Occurrence: The range of H. clupeola extends from southern Florida through the Bahamas and Caribbean south to Brazil (Robins et al. 1986; Munroe & Nizinski 2002). Small schools are found in a variety of coastal habitats, from brackish estuaries to nearshore and coral reefs (Randall 1967; Robins et al. 1986; Ortaz et al. 1996; Munroe & Nizinski 2002; Félix et al. 2007). Studies have shown that larger individuals move offshore to feed and reproduce, while juveniles often occupy protected estuarine habitats such as mangroves and seagrass beds (Ortaz et al. 1996; Félix et al. 2007).
Age, Size, Lifespan: The maximum recorded length for false herring is 17 cm, although most adult specimens measure only about 9 cm (Munroe & Nizinski 2002). Lifespan varies with environmental conditions and other factors.
Abundance: Detailed abundance records for H. clupeola populations within the IRL are scarce. However, false herring often form several small schools that contribute to the overall abundance of the species within its native range. Surveys of coastal fishes in southern Brazil revealed that H. clupeola accounted for over 42% of all catch within the surf zone (Félix et al. 2007).
Reproduction & Embryology: Other than reported offshore spawning (see 'Regional Occurrence' above), little information is available concerning the reproduction and embryology of H. clupeola. However, laboratory studies have been conducted on eggs and larvae of the related scaled sardine, H. jaguana, and it is likely that the two species share similar developmental processes. Eggs of H. jaguana ,1.6 to 1.8 mm in diameter, were collected from populations in south Florida (Houde et al. 1974). Larvae measuring about 2.4 mm and bearing a large yolk sac emerged from the eggs within 24 hours post-fertilization. After about 48 hours, the yolk sac was absorbed and the larvae began to actively feed on plankton. Juvenile and adult characteristics developed when larvae reached a length of about 22-24 mm. Concurrent studies by Houde et al. (1974) suggested that spawning occurs at night and extends from February through July near Miami, Florida. It is possible that spawning seasons are abbreviated for false herring populations in and around the IRL, where water temperatures may fluctuate seasonally on a larger scale than those in south Florida.
Trophic Mode: Like many small schooling fishes, false herring are nocturnal planktivores (Randall 1967; Ortaz et al. 1996; Munroe & Nizinski 2002). Once individuals begin to feed as larvae, H. clupeola prey mainly on large numbers of copepods, but also ingest crab and shrimp larvae, pteropods, polychaete worms and fish eggs (e.g. Randall 1967).
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