Fishes of the North Inlet Estuary, SC A guide to their identification and ecology

Fishes of the North Inlet Estuary, SC A guide to their identification and ecology Raymond G. Simpson Dennis M. Allen Stacy A. Sherman Kimberly F. Edwards Illustrations by R. G. Simpson Baruch Marine Field
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Fishes of the North Inlet Estuary, SC A guide to their identification and ecology Raymond G. Simpson Dennis M. Allen Stacy A. Sherman Kimberly F. Edwards Illustrations by R. G. Simpson Baruch Marine Field Laboratory Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences University of South Carolina This publication should be cited as: Simpson, R.G., D.M. Allen, S.A. Sherman, and K.F. Edwards Fishes of the North Inlet estuary: a guide to their identification and ecology. Belle W. Baruch Institute Special Publication. University of South Carolina. 143 pp. This book is dedicated to my father, Craig Simpson, who has given me the encouragement and inspiration to follow my dreams. Raymond G. Simpson Contents Preface and Acknowledgements... 6 About the Authors... 7 Introduction... 8 How to Use This Guide Illustrated Species Accounts Triakidae houndsharks Carcharhinidae requiem sharks Sphyrnidae hammerheads Rajidae skates Dasyatidae stingrays Gymnuridae butterfly rays Rhinopteridae cownose rays Acipenseridae sturgeons Megalopidae tarpons Elopidae tenpounders Anguillidae freshwater eels Ophichthidae snake eels Clupeidae herrings Engraulidae anchovies Ariidae sea catfishes Phycidae phycid hakes Synodontidae lizardfishes Ophidiidae cusk-eels Batrachoididae toadfishes Antennariidae frogfishes Belonidae needlefishes Cyprinodontidae pupfishes Fundulidae top minnows Poeciliidae livebearers Atherinopsidae New World silversides Syngnathidae pipefishes Scorpaenidae scorpionfishes Triglidae searobins Moronidae temperate basses Serranidae sea basses Pomatomidae bluefishes Priacanthidae bigeyes Rachycentridae - cobias Carangidae jacks Lutjanidae snappers... 76 Lobotidae tripletails Gerreidae mojarras Haemulidae grunts Sparidae porgies Sciaenidae drums Ephippidae spadefishes Labridae wrasses Mugilidae mullets Uranoscopidae stargazers Blenniidae combtooth blennies Gobiidae gobies Gobiesocidae clingfishes Eleotridae sleepers Trichiuridae snake mackerels Scombridae mackerels Paralichthyidae sand flounders Scophthalmidae turbots Cynoglossidae tonguefishes Achiridae American soles Monacanthidae filefishes Tetraodontidae puffers Diodontidae porcupinefishes Appendix. All Species Identified in North Inlet Glossary of Anatomical and Ecological Terms References and Recommended Field Guides Index of Scientific and Common Names Preface and Acknowledgments Anybody who spends time around tidal waters and marshes is aware that fishes are abundant and important to both the ecology of coastal systems and the recreational and economic interests of our local communities. What most observers and fishermen do not realize is that the diversity of species and life styles of fishes in this region are very high and that many species are seldom seen and sometimes difficult to identify. This book has been developed to help students, researchers, fishermen, and curious coastal observers identify and understand more about the fishes that occur in the estuarine and shallow ocean waters of the North Inlet and Winyah Bay areas of the South Carolina coast. This project was first proposed in 2005 by Dr. Richard Dame, Professor of Marine Science at Coastal Carolina University, after he learned of the artistic talents of then undergraduate student Raymond Simpson. Ray produced many line drawings of marine fishes from tropical and temperate waters before becoming a summer research assistant on a newly funded National Science Foundation project in Recognizing the long-standing interest in preparing a guide to the local fishes, Dr. Dennis Allen, Dr. Stacy (Luthy) Sherman, and Kimberly (Foley) Edwards encouraged Ray to develop a collection of biological illustrations and to draft descriptions of the the ecology, life cycle, and distinguishing characteristics of each species. Ray illustrated 104 species of the fishes, sharks, and rays most likely to be encountered in the North Inlet Estuary. The illustrations and descriptions were organized and configured and a list of all species recorded since 1978 was included. Dr. Rob Young, Department of Marine Science, Coastal Carolina University arranged the printing of the original 2006 guide. The supply of printed copies of the original guide was exhausted by Requests for copies continued to arrive. In 2014, Dennis approached Ray about revising and expanding the original work. Ray modified 48 of the original illustrations and contributed 6 new species. Dennis revised the text entries and all other authors of the original guide contributed to the final draft. The list of all species recorded since 1978 has been updated. We continue to document new occurrences and information about our local fauna, and your help is encouraged. Many other individuals participated in the project. We especially thank: Brad Dean, Dr. Henrietta Hampel, Paul Kenny, Lisa Knott, Josh Rabon, and Dr. Rob Young for assistance in the collection of materials from which many specimens were drawn and for additional help along the way. We also thank Beth Thomas, Wendy Allen and Ginger Ogburn-Matthews for reviewing the original manuscript and providing ideas for improving the final product. 6 About the Authors The authors continue to be involved in environmental research, education, and stewardship. Ray Simpson is currently seeking a Ph.D. on the evolutionary biology and the systematic/taxonomy of fishes at Yale University. He is also a freelance scientific illustrator ( or Dr. Dennis Allen is a Research Professor and Director of the Baruch Marine Field Laboratory of the University of South Carolina Dr. Stacy Sherman is a Senior Environmental Scientist at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Kimberly Edwards is marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration s (NOAA) Biogeography Team 7 Introduction Estuaries are most simply defined as coastal areas where fresh and salt waters mix. These nutrient enriched, transitional areas between terrestrial and oceanic systems support high productivity, which translates into abundant food sources. In estuaries, rich food supplies combine with a wide range of environmental conditions and habitats along a dynamic physical gradient to support a high abundance and diversity of animals. Among these are upwards of 200 fish species, ranging from tiny gobies to large game fishes and sharks. This guide was developed to broaden the recognition and understanding of southeastern US fishes and aid in identification of species that occur in the warm temperate North Inlet Estuary and nearby areas. North Inlet is a barrier-island-bounded, salt marsh estuary in coastal South Carolina, just north of the midpoint between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. The inlet is flanked by Debidue Island to the north and North Island to the south. The western edge of the marsh is bordered by the forests of Hobcaw Barony, property of the Belle W. Baruch Foundation. Well-buffered from anthropogenic inputs, North Inlet is considered one of the most pristine American estuaries. Its salt marsh and creeks comprise the northeastern half of the North Inlet Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). North Inlet Estuary is characterized by high oceanic salinities, except around the forest edge after heavy rains. A semi-diurnal tidal regime (two cycles/day) keeps the shallow estuary well mixed. The average tidal range between high and low tide levels is about 1.4 m (about 4.6 ft), but tides approaching 2 m (6.6 ft) occur several times a year. Tides drive chemical, geological, and biological processes within estuaries. 8 The marsh is dominated by smooth cord grass, Spartina alterniflora, which together with other plants and algae produce more organic material per acre per year than most agricultural systems. This rich base of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins is consumed in various forms by small invertebrates that later provide food for fishes, birds, marine mammals, and humans. The tides alternately flood and drain marshes via a network of channels. The deeper channels that always contain water are termed subtidal. Intertidal is the term for the smaller, higher-elevation creeks that are flooded at high tide, but are nearly devoid of water at low tide. Intertidal areas below the marsh level support live oyster reefs and associated invertebrates. At high tide, many fish species access the marsh surface, regularly taking advantage of the opportunity to forage on resident invertebrates. As the tide ebbs, these fishes retreat to subtidal channels or to remnant pools within the intertidal creeks. Fish species are often associated with a certain habitat type amongst the mosaic of habitats that comprise the estuary. Some fishes, such as anchovies and silversides, spend their entire lives in the water column, while others are sedentary and live close to the bottom and/or structure. Bottoms of channels and creeks range from sand to soft mud, often with shell rubble intermixed. Some fish species, especially large predators, always remain in these deeper channels, but most species forage on richer supplies of food available in the intertidal zone whenever it is flooded. Intertidal mud or muddy sand flats usually support high densities of worms, clams, and other benthic (buried) species. Many fish discussed in this guide are familiar to local fishermen: targeted species (e.g. Southern Flounder, Red Drum) and others that might be common bait fishes (e.g. Mummichog or mud minnows ). Because the majority of fish species in North Inlet are not susceptible to capture by hook and line, gigs, or even traps, scientists use a variety of gear to collect and study the diversity of species (Table 1). Note: Some gear require a permit from the SC Department of Natural Resources. Consult state regulations before using seines, other nets, and traps. Always be aware of current state regulations regarding the possession of fish, shrimps, and crabs. The composition of the fish species assemblage in North Inlet changes throughout the year as different species and life stages move in and out of the estuary. In general, there are two groups of fishes, residents and transients. Residents live in the estuary throughout their lives. The Mummichog is probably the most common resident fish; it lays its eggs at the base of the marsh grass, grows up in the nearby creeks and subtidal channels, and dies in the same area. Other residents include the gobies, blennies, and silversides. Transient species spend only part of their lives in the estuary, but in the warm months, they far outnumber the residents. These species are often called estuarine dependent because of their reliance on estuaries to complete their life cycle. Early life stages (larvae and juveniles) account for the largest proportion of most transient fish populations. Species such as the Southern Flounder, Red Drum, and Spot spawn in the ocean, but larvae that do not make it into an estuary may not survive. For this reason, estuaries are often referenced as nurseries or essential habitat for fishes. An estuary functions as a nursery because its high plant and algae productivity is necessary to support high rates of growth in young fishes. Also critical to these species is the structural complexity and shallow depths of estuaries which provide young fishes with refuge from predation. Many commercially and recreationally fished species are classified as estuarine dependent. 9 Table 1. Nets and gear used to collect fish. Gear Description Advantages Disadvantages Seine Nylon mesh panel stretched from the bottom to the surface, pulled by two people Samples shallow water Does not catch fast swimmers; can snag on oysters and debris, enabling specimens to escape Trawl Tapered bag-like net pulled by a boat and held open by trawl doors Captures fishes on or just above the bottom in deeper waters Does not catch small fishes, very fast swimmers, or those that live close to the surface or edges Beam trawl Tapered bag-like net pulled by a boat and held open by a rigid frame Especially good for capturing small flatfishes Does not catch very fast swimmers, or those close to the surface Block net Funnel-shaped net covering the entire mouth of an intertidal creek; set at high tide, captures animals as they leave with the ebbing tide Very effective in collecting all animals occupying the flooded habitat Labor intensive, most nekton die during confinement Gill net Monofilament mesh panel with weighted bottom line and buoyant top line; set perpendicular to bottom and can be fished unattended Collects larger, faster swimming fishes not collected by other gear Entanglement gear snags fish under the gill plates, it usually means mutilation and death of the fish; also, entangled oyster clumps, crabs, and debris are tedious to remove; net repairs are constant Trap Wire or plastic enclosures with funnels designed for easy entry and more difficult exit Can be used in pools and other areas where pulling nets is not possible Selective since many species will not enter or be retained in traps Habitat tray Wire mesh tray filled with shell and set on bottom in deeper areas to sample structure dwelling fishes, quickly lifted from above Effective for sampling small animals which tend to hide in the rubble when lifted Selective since many species will swim away Lift net Rectangular net that is buried in the bottom and lifted to entrap fishes within Very good technique for sampling marsh surface at different levels of flooding Very labor intensive, requires removable boardwalks to approach nets Longline Nylon mainline with perpendicular monofilament or wire leaders that terminate in hooks with bait Only means of catching largest fishes besides rod and reel; effort can be standardized Labor intensive, potentially dangerous with large sharks and rays 10 How to use this Guide In North Inlet, over 180 resident and transient fish species have been identified (Appendix), but only about 20 are familiar to anglers. An additional 30 to 40 species are common and regularly encountered by scientists. Most are not abundant or even regularly caught. Although we could not describe every fish that occurs in North Inlet in this guide, all of the common fishes and many of the uncommon or rare species are treated. Some uncommon and rare species that are not covered with a full species account may be characterized under a Similar species entry for a more common similar looking species. You might need to refer to a more comprehensive guide to fishes for the Southeast region or beyond; see Reference and Recommended Field Guides at the back of this Guide. The species are presented in the systematic order used by fish scientists. Many local fishes are referred to by more than one name. For instance, the Red Drum is also known as the spottail bass, channel bass, puppy drum, and redfish. To reduce confusion, the American Fisheries Society (AFS) has designated one official common name for each species (Nelson, et al. 2004). We use official AFS names for all entries in this guide. Also, following AFS convention, the first letter of each word in the accepted common name of the fish is capitalized (e.g. Atlantic Sharpnose Shark). Unless you are already familiar with a fish of interest and can search by name in the Index, use features such as body shape, color pattern, and location of the mouth to focus your search. Browse the pages using general appearance, then, once a reasonable match is made, read the descriptions of key features, behavior, habitats, and seasons of local occurrence and narrow your identification. The use of unfamiliar words (jargon) is sometimes unavoidable in a guide like this. A Glossary is included in the back of this Guide. Note that color descriptions are based on living or fresh specimens. Colors, stripes, and spots often fade or change considerably in fishes after death. Markings, color patterns, and even body shapes can differ between young and adult fishes of the same species. Anatomical features such as fin shapes and placements as well as numbers of fin spines and rays are among the most reliable features used in identifying fish species. For most species, we have provided descriptions of other species with which your specimen might be confused. Most distinguishing characteristics are described, but the entries for alternate candidates mentioned under similar species should be studied before making a decision about identity. Even then, you should not be surprised if some doubt remains. Even trained scientists sometimes find themselves unsure, especially with juveniles. As we continue to learn more about the fishes of North Inlet, we always welcome observations, photos, and specimens from fishermen and others who are interested in our local fishes. The North Inlet Winyah Bay NERR offers programs in which students and citizens of all ages can participate in the regularly scheduled collections of fishes in North Inlet. Check their web page at for educational opportunities. 11 General anatomical features of a typical bony fish. In this lateral (side) view, the upper margin of the fish is known as dorsal, and the lower margin is known as ventral. In all fishes, the head end is anterior, and the tail end is posterior. Additional terms are defined in the Glossary. Spines (stiff) Dorsal fin (but often distinct 1 st and 2 nd dorsal fins) Rays (soft) Caudal peduncle Caudal fin Operculum Lateral line Pectoral fin Anal fin Pelvic fin dorsal ventral anterior posterior 12 Illustrated Species Accounts Illustrations and descriptions are provided for all of the common fishes known to occur in the North Inlet estuary. Also provided are accounts for dozens of less common and rare species. In addition to the 113 species presented as full page descriptions, many additional species that could be confused with the ones illustrated are mentioned under Similar Species on those pages. The accounts are presented by family according to the systematic order used by fish scientists. Identification of the resident and transient fish species of the North Inlet estuary has been ongoing since To date the list includes 182 species and likely more will be added in the future. All species known to occur in North Inlet estuary are listed in the Appendix. 13 Triakidae - houndsharks Dusky Smooth-hound (formerly Smooth Dogfish) Mustelus canis Description An elongate shark, the Dusky Smooth-hound has a flattened ventral surface and an obvious ridge on the dorsal midline. The head is flattened dorsally and the eyes are positioned more toward the top of the head than the side. The snout is long and the eyes large. The first dorsal fin is slightly larger than the second dorsal. The first dorsal begins above the rear margin of the pectoral fin and the second dorsal begins well forward of the anal origin. The anal fin is much smaller than the second dorsal. Fins usually have white edges. The teeth are flattened, blunt, and arranged in a mosaic pattern of rows. Coloration Its color ranges from dark gray to olive on the back grading to white or yellowish on the belly. There are no obvious markings on the body or fins except the first dorsal fin margin may be light in young fish. Maximum size of the Dusky Smooth-hound is about 150 cm (5 ft), but it is usually less than 100 cm. Young sharks are around cm, and they mature around cm. Range It occurs from Canada to southern South America, including the Caribbean Sea islands and the Gulf of Mexico. Habitat This coastal shark is found over muddy and sandy bottoms and, unlike many coastal sharks, it tends to remain fairly close to the bottom. It can tolerate low salinities and has been reported in freshwater. Dusky Smooth-hounds occasionally enter the deeper channels of North Inlet, but only during the colder part of the year when most other sharks are not present. Its diet includes fishes, squids, and crustaceans. Similar Species All other sharks can be distinguished by having laterally-set eyes, distinct rows of pointed
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