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Sea of Cortez 810

Family Haemulidae
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Order: Perciformes

Key Features:
The grunts are closely related to the snappers in the family Lutjanidae, but possess chin pits and lack the canine and vomerine teeth of the snappers.  Many, but not all, are more deep-bodied than the snappers and have a more blunt face.  Grunts get their name from the distinct vocalizations they emit when startled or threatened.  Most grunts are predatory schooling fishes that prey on invertebrates, especially crustaceans and worms. 

Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez

Haemulon sexfasciatum
Graybar Grunt
Haemulon maculicauda
Spottail Grunt
Haemulon flaviguttatum
Cortez Grunt
Microlepidotus inornatus
Wavyline Grunt
Xenistius californiensis
Anisotremus davidsonii
Anisotremus interruptus
Burrito Grunt

haemulon maculicauda spottail grunt, Isla San Pedro Nolasco, San Carlos, Sonora Mexico

Haemulon maculicauda
Spottail Grunt

Isla San Pedro Nolasco

San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico

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Family Haemulidae
Grunts (Burros)

Commonly referred to as grunts, members of the family Haemulidae are distributed circumtropically and represent approximately one hundred fifty species in seventeen genera.  Within the Sea of Cortez twenty-five species in nine genera are recognized.  The grunts are closely related to snappers and share many of their morphological identification characteristics.  They may be differentiated from the snappers by the lack of canine teeth and the presence of chin pits.  Most notably, many members of this family produce easily audible grunting sounds when handled or frightened. 

The majority of the grunts in the Sea of Cortez are schooling fishes that cruise the reefs and sandy bottoms by day.  They often will separate by night to feed on benthic fishes and invertebrates.  The most commonly observed schooling grunts in the central Sea of Cortez include the wavyline grunt, Microlepidotis inornatus, and the graybar grunt, Haemulon sexfasciatum.  Both are found in great abundance from the central Gulf at Guaymas and San Carlos to as far south as Manzanillo. The graybar grunt ranges Mexico to as far south as Panama.  The wavyline grunt is somewhat more streamlined than the graybar and is easily identified by the presence of thin lines extending from behind the eye to the end of the caudal peduncle.  The dorsal fin has a membrane between the spines to the tip whereas the graybar grunt has the second, third, and fourth spines extending distinctly above the fin membranes. 

Two additional species of grunts are notable as their range extends from the tidepools of Puerto Penasco to the tip of Baja including La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.  These include the Cortez grunt, Haemulon flaviguttatum, and the salema, Xenistius californiensis.  The Cortez grunt has a general morphology resembling the graybar grunt but the body is not quite as deep.  More obviously the Cortez grunt lacks the dark bars along the dorsal region and instead have an overall gray color with a blue spot on each scale.  The salema more closely resembles the members of the family Lutjanidae.  Unlike most grunts, it has a completely divided dorsal fin and long pectoral fins.  The body itself is greenish with a series of orange or brown stripes along the dorsal surface. 

A third species, the burrito grunt, Anisotremus interruptus, ranges throughout the Gulf. The burrito grunt is difficult to confuse with the other two species given its unique and almost comical appearance.  It is very deep bodied and strongly compressed.  Scales are larger in this fish than other grunts. The very extended head shape, combined with large fleshy lips, gives this fish an unmistakable profile.   The burrito grunt is commonly seen throughout the day, as it is much more active than its strictly nocturnal cousins.  Juveniles tend to school whereas the large adults are generally solitary and retire to caves and rocky overhangs.  Adult burrito grunts may grow to one and a half feet (0.46m).  There are three related species found in the Gulf but only at the southernmost tip. 


Updated August 28, 2009

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