French Grunts of Key West
For those planning a Key West scuba dive tour there is a lot to look forward to, not the least of which is the many species of exotic fish awaiting them. Beautiful reefs, great weather, and an abundance of interesting marine life are among the best reasons tourists and locals alike love Key West. One common fish that many divers encounter is the whimsically named French Grunt. Since they travel around in schools of up to a thousand fish, they can be quite an arresting sight.
French Grunt Appearance
Otherwise known as Haemulon flavolineatum, an adult French Grunt is generally covered in bright yellow stripes against a silver or white background. Their fins are the same bright yellow shade. They have many nicknames related to their tropical appearance, including banana grunt, gold laced grunt, and red mouthed grunt. As hinted at by one of these nicknames, the inside of their mouth is a bright red. They have flat conical teeth and no canines. They also have large silver eyes and thick silver lips.
Youngsters of this breed look a bit different than the adults and lack the bright hue of their elders. The larval stage of this fish is about two weeks long, and during their subsequent adolescence they will often sport black stripes against a paler background. Adults can grow up to a foot in length, though the females are sexually mature by about 6 inches and most do not grow much larger than that. The Haemulon flavolineatum is the only species of grunt where the scales below the lateral line are enlarged, helping enthusiasts to identify them.
French Grunt Habitat
A coastal fish, the French Grunt can be found as far south in the Atlantic Ocean as Brazil and as far north as the Carolinas. Their preferred habitat is the areas near coral reefs or rock ledges, and they are not generally found deeper than 200 feet, making the waters off Key West a perfect home for them. This preference for relatively shallow, coastal waters means that scuba divers and snorkelers alike can often hope to catch a glimpse of these cheerful looking fish while out in the water.
French Grunt Eating Habits
Barring accident or illness they can generally live about eight years. They eat krill, crustaceans, mollusks and other small invertebrates. Their name comes from their habit of loudly grinding their teeth, making their signature grunting sound. They are nocturnal and therefore feed at night, and though not endangered they also need to be on the lookout for larger fish who may instead make a meal out of them. Their natural predators include various groupers and the trumpetfish. They are also vulnerable to a variety of parasites.
French grunts are a popular fish to display in aquariums, due to their attractive appearance and ability to live peacefully with other fish. They can also be cooked and eaten, making them equally popular for the dinner plate. However, for commercial fishing their small size limits their potential. Perhaps best of all is their ability to delight divers in their natural habitat.