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Related FAQs: Snappers

Related Articles: Fusiliers, Family Caesionidae Indonesian Snappers,

/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

Snappers, Family Lutjanidae

To: part II, part III

By Bob Fenner

Lutjanus quinquelineatus  

     Amongst the "personality" fishes for marine aquariums, few can match some of the snapper family. These animals can be hand tamed, and kept for a very long time... if you have the space.

The snappers and their allies, the fusiliers are good additions for "fish-only" marine systems, who, though bold eaters, only require a darkened space to call their own.

Classification, Favored Species:

All told there are twenty one genera and some hundred seven described species of snappers. The family Lutjanidae is further split up by some taxonomists into five subfamilies; in recent schemes including the planktivorous family/subfamily of fusiliers, Caesionidae/Caesioninae.

Take a look at a "typical" snapper; they all have a similar body plan; a continuous (or shallowly notched) dorsal fin with 9-12 spines and 9-18 soft rays; an anal fin of three spines and 7-11 soft rays. Notice the origin of the pelvic fins; they're inserted just behind the pectoral base, granting the fish good turning and hovering control.

How 'bout the mouth? With a common name like snapper, you'd assume theirs would be large, and you'd be right. Snapper mouths are easy to spot, being terminal, most with enlarged canine teeth, and a distinctive arrangement of jaw-bones. Technically the maxilla slips beneath the preorbital bone when the mouth is closed and the supramaxilla is absent; it must appear like a landing ramp to other aquatics as well, right up to the time they're inhaled.

Natural and Introduced Range

Snappers are tropical and subtropical in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans; a few are estuarine to entirely freshwater (Lutjanus fuscescens, Lutjanus goldiei, Lutjanus maxweberi), though these aren't the ones typically sold as "freshwater snappers". Snappers are important food and game fishes, and several species have been introduced into non-native waters.


 Small species get to about half a foot, largest ones attain a yard in length. Small species get to about half a foot, largest ones attain a yard in length.

Favorite Aquarium Snapper Species: 

The following Lutjanids are amongst those most often encountered in the pet-fish hobby, but except for the one warned against below, the whole family does well in "standard" aquarium conditions; as long as their tank is big enough. Do look for the smaller species if your aquarium volume is limited.

The Emperor Snapper, Lutjanus sebae (Cuvier 1816), is a real beauty as a juvenile, but beware; it gets to be a real honker... more than three feet long in the wild! Another good reason to under- and infrequently feed an emperor is that their gorgeous color fades with growing size. Here is a juvenile in an urchin in N. Sulawesi, one of four inches in captivity, and an adult in Australian waters.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

In good stead with the Emperor and catch all "miscellaneous" snappers from the Indo-Pacific are the threadfin snappers, Symphorichthys spilurus (Gunther 1874) (aka the Majestic Snapper) and Symphorus nematophorus (Bleeker 1860) (the Blue-Lined Snapper) which must be seen in person to be fully appreciated. These two have golden yellow bodies flanked by bright blue horizontal bars, two vertical black head bands and a dark caudal spot. They look touchy but are as tough as the best snappers. To two and three feet maximum length respectively. Here are gorgeous juvenile and adult Majestics in captivity.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Standard offerings from the Caribbean include the Dog Snapper, Lutjanus jocu (Bloch & Schneider 1801), the appropriate color-named Mahogany Snapper, Lutjanus mahogoni, and yellow-tailed snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus; the last being one of the most popular snappers for aquarium use for its beauty, more peaceful nature, and slower growth. Less often seen from the western Atlantic are the Mutton Snapper, Lutjanus analis, and Schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus; feed these last two sparingly, they get big, fast.

Anisotremus surinamensis (Bloch 1791), the Black Margot. Tropical West Atlantic. To two feet in length. Feeds at night on crustaceans, fishes, urchins... Cozumel image. 

Aphareus furca (Lacepede 1802), the Small-Toothed Jobfish. East Africa to Polynesia in distribution. To sixteen inches in length. This one off of Queensland, Australia. 

Genus Lutjanus:

Lutjanus adetii (Castelnau 1873), the Yellow-Banded Snapper or Hussar. Western Pacific; east coast of Australia and New Caledonia. To twenty inches maximum length. This one of many in a school off Heron Island in Australian waters, 

Lutjanus analis (Cuvier 1828), (Cuvier 1828), the Mutton Snapper. Western Atlantic; Massachusetts to Brazil, Gulf of Mexico. To 26 inches maximum length. This one off of Belize.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Lutjanus apodus (Walbaum 1792), the Schoolmaster Snapper. Western Atlantic; Massachusetts to Brazil and the Eastern Atlantic; Core d'Ivoire to Guinea. To nearly twenty seven inches total length. Here in the Bonaire, seven and twelve inch individuals.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Lutjanus bengalensis (Bloch 1790), the Bengal Snapper. Indian Ocean to Ambon, W. Pacific. To 30 cm./1 foot in length. Similar to other golden blue/white striped snappers but white underneath and no marks on the snout. Mauritius 2016. 

Lutjanus biguttatus (Valenciennes 1830), the Two-Spot Banded Snapper. Indo-Pacific; mainly Solomons to Australia to the Philippines, out to the Maldives. To eight inches total length. One in the Maldives, another in S. Sulawesi.  http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw
/Country/Country SpeciesSummary.cfm?Country=Indonesia& Genus=

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Lutjanus bohar (Forsskal 1775), the Two-Spot Red Snapper. Indo-West Pacific; Eastern Africa to the Marquesas, south to Australia. To a maximum length of three feet. Shown, a juvenile in Fiji, an adult off of Queensland, Australia, and an aggregating, reproductive school off of Ras Mohamed, Egypt's Sinai, Red Sea. 
Lutjanus boutton (Lacepede 1802), the Moluccan Snapper. Western Pacific; Sumatra to Samoa. To a foot in length. 


Lutjanus buccanella, the Blackfin Snapper. Trop. W. Atlantic. To two feet in length. A six inch juvenile in Cozumel 2017

Lutjanus carponotatus (Richardson 1842), the Spanish Flag Snapper. Northeastern Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. This one off of Heron Island, Australia. To sixteen inches maximum length. Not used in the aquarium interest, but could definitely be. Good looking, hardy, stays small enough... numerous and easy to catch... A juvenile in captivity and an adult off Heron Island, GBR.

Lutjanus cyanopterus (Cuvier 1828), Cubera Snapper. To 160 cm., 57 kilos... Western Atlantic.
Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)

To: part II, part III

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