When diving in Key West, swimmers can look forward to a wide variety of exotic and colorful fish. High on this list is the Blue-Striped Grunt, which can often be found in large schools of hundreds of other grunts, including the French Grunt, a close relative. Often found among the coral reefs and seagrass near Key West, these attractive and friendly fish are among the highlights swimmers can expect to see when on a diving trip.
Also known as the Haemulon sciurus, the Blue-Striped Grunt has been nicknamed the boar grunt or the humpback grunt. Though they usually grow to only about 8-10 inches, there have been ones found that are up to a foot and a half long. They can live up to 12 years, if they manage to keep away from fisherman or from their natural predators, which include shark and grouper. Spawning occurs in late winter and early spring and young Blue-Striped Grunts especially like seagrass beds.
Their name comes from the many thin blue stripes that cover their body, though their base color is actually yellow. There is a distinctive arched stripe that is always found under their eye, helping to identify them. The fins of the Haemulon sciurus are yellow and black, and its tail is deeply notched. Like its cousin the French Grunt, it has a bright red mouth and its name comes from the grunting noise it can make with its teeth. Unlike the French Grunt its scales are enlarged above the lateral line rather than below.
Like other grunts, they prefer to live near coral reefs, mangroves, and in seagrass. They especially like to gather in the areas near extreme drop-offs. They stay mainly in relatively shallow waters, and are not found deeper than 100 feet. Divers can find them in the coastal waters of the Atlantic as far south as northern Brazil and as far north as the Carolinas. These various preferences are among the reasons the Florida Keys are such an ideal home for them.
The Blue-Striped Grunt eats mainly shrimp and small fish. They have been seen foraging at night, supporting a theory that they are nocturnal. One interesting behavior that divers have observed is two fish pushing against each other while face to face with their mouths open. Scientists are unsure whether this behavior is to defend their territory or is instead a courting move, but is fascinating to watch regardless.
Like its relative the French Grunt, it is fished for both aquarium usage and for human consumption. As a food, it is generally sold fresh and pan-cooked. As an aquarium fish, it is popular due to its willingness to live with other fish and its colorful, tropical appearance. All of these traits make them a popular sight for divers.