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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Tarpon Megalops atlanticus

With its large scales and intensely silvery body, the tarpon resembles an oversized herring but, in fact, is closely related to the eels. It has an upturned mouth, and the base of the single dorsal fin is drawn out into a long filament, although this is not always easy to see. Living close inshore, this fish often enters estuaries, lagoons, and rivers. If it enters stagnant water, it surfaces and gulps air, which passes from the esophagus into its swim bladder; this then acts like a lung. Tarpon spawn mostly in open water at sea. A large female can produce over 12 million eggs, but larval and juvenile mortality is high. The larvae, which are thin and transparent and very like eel larvae except that they have forked tails, drift inshore into estuarine nursery grounds. Tarpon larvae are also found in pools and lakes that become temporarily cut off from the sea. Fishermen get to know the areas where tarpon shoals can regularly be seen from year to year, hunting for other shoaling fish such as sardines, anchovies, and mullet. They will also eat some bottom-living invertebrates such as crabs. Considered an excellent game fish in US and Caribbean waters, tarpon make spectacular leaps when hooked. They are also fished commercially and, in spite of being rather bony, are considered delicious. Tarpon can live for 55 years and are often displayed in public aquariums. Their large scales are sometimes used in ornamental work.

Tarponzoom image
Tarponzoom image
Tarponzoom image
  • Order Elopiformes
  • Length Up to 8 ft (2.5 m)
  • Weight 350 lb (160 kg)
  • Depth 0–100 ft (0–30 m)
  • Distribution Coastal waters of western and eastern Atlantic
Tarpon habitat mapzoom image