Potentially Misidentified Species:
The genus Lagodon is monotypic, but pinfish may still be confused with
other co-occurring fish in the IRL. The longitudinal yellow lines confer some
resemblance to various species of grunts, although head, mouth and teeth
morphologies are substantially different so that most confusion is avoided.
Particularly as juveniles, pinfish may also be mistaken for sheepshead
(Archosargus probatocephalus), who are also members of the porgy family.
The dark vertical bars of the sheepshead are more prominent and more
persistent than those of pinfish.
II. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Lagodon rhomboidesis found on the eastern coast of the United States
from New England south to Florida, Bermuda, the northern Gulf of Mexico, the
northern coast of Cuba, and the Yucatan (Hoese and Moore 1977, Burgess 1980,
Froese and Pauly 2008). The species appears to be absent from the Bahamas and
the rest of the Antilles (Smith 1997). Froese and Pauly (2008) list L.
rhomboidesas a subtropical species occurring from 43° to 20° north
The species has historically been abundant from Virginia southward (Hildebrand
and Cable 1938). Muncy (1984) notes pinfish are less abundant north of
Maryland, and juveniles collected from Delaware estuaries appear to have
migrated there from spawning grounds to the south (Wang and Kernehan 1979).
Pinfish are distributed throughout the estuarine and nearshore waters of
Florida and are known to be present in all Florida coastal counties. They
occur throughout the IRL system.
III. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY
Age, Size, Lifespan:
Based on whole otolith analysis, Nelson (2002) recorded pinfish as old as 7
years, although the vast majority of individuals do not live nearly that long.
The author estimated a high instantaneous natural mortality rate of 0.78/year
and a total instantaneous natural mortality rate of 0.90/year. Earlier,
Hellier (1962) had reported no more than 2% of age 0 pinfish in Laguna Madre,
TX, survived from hatching to reach age 1 in the following February.
Young-of-the-year Lagodon rhomboides exhibit rapid growth; Nelson (1998) reports
instantaneous growth rates of 0.10-0.25 cm/month for such individuals.
Hansen (1970) reports an average standard length (SL) of 12.7 cm (5 inches) for
age-2 pinfish. Randall and Vergara (1978) report a maximum total length (TL)
as 40 cm. The maximum published weight for the species is 1,510 g (IGFA 2001).
Pinfish can be extremely abundant in certain areas and at certain times of the
year. In years of high recruitment, young-of-the-year pinfish are likely to be
the numerical dominant fish species in the IRL (Stoner 1980). Abundance of
mature animals can also be considerable. Springer (1957) reported multiple
schools of more than 1,000 adult pinfish each off the Mississippi coast. All
females sampled from these schools were ripe and these schools may have been
In some areas pinfish become seasonally so abundant that their foraging
activities are capable of altering the composition of estuarine epifaunal
seagrass communities (Stoner 1982).
Pinfish mature after one or (usually) two years, when they have reached a
standard length (SL) of around 80-100 mm (Hansen 1970, Johnson 1978). Average
standard length at 50% maturity was estimated to be 13.2 cm (Hansen 1970).
Darcy (1985) reports that mature pinfish migrate to offshore waters in the late
fall and spawn offshore from late fall through early spring. Hansen (1970)
suggested that most pinfish mature during the offshore spawning migration or at
offshore spawning sites.
Hansen (1970) reported that adult female pinfish between 111 and 152 mm SL
contained an average of 21,600 eggs. Caldwell (1957) estimated that a 157-mm
long female collected from Florida in late November contained approximately
Pinfish eggs are roughly 1 mm in diameter, usually with a single oil globule
and a very narrow perivitelline space. Laboratory studies by Schimmel (1977)
indicated that fertile eggs were semibuoyant, while non-viable eggs sank to the
bottoms of finger bowls.
Schimmel (1977) described the embryology and larval life history of pinfish.
Larvae hatched out after approximately 48 hours at 18°C and averaged 2.3 mm in
length. The yolk sac, visible 24 hours after hatching, is completely absorbed
once larvae reached a size of 2.7 mm. At 96 hours, mouths begin to develop in
the 3 mm-long larvae. Soft rays begin to form at 5-7 mm total length, and
spines begin to differentiate at 8-10 mm TL. The caudal fin undergoes several
morphological changes to finally become concave at 14 mm TL. Teeth are formed
at 10 mm TL, and scale formation begins at 15 mm TL (Johnson 1978).
Field studies indicate that larval pinfish begin moving into estuarine waters
at around 11 mm TL (Johnson 1978). Reid (1954) collected larvae ranging
between 11 mm and 18 mm in estuarine waters near Cedar Key, Florida, from late
November through early January. A study by Thayer et al. (1983) revealed
greater nighttime pinfish larval abundance in surface waters, compared to
samples collected during the day. Wang and Kernehan (1979) report that
juveniles continue to migrate into the estuaries through spring and into the
IV. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES
Pinfish tolerate temperature fluctuations typical of shallow subtropical
estuaries, roughly between 10°C and 35°C. They do, however, exhibit behavioral
responses to thermal extremes. When surface temperatures in shallow estuaries
exceed 32°C, for example, most juvenile pinfish move into the cooler deep water
of adjacent manmade channels (Cameron 1969). In contrast, this author noted
that larger pinfish moved out of shallow flats but some juveniles remained
inshore when temperatures dropped below 10°C.
Peters et al. (1973) note that feeding stopped at temperatures above 35°C and
below 6°C. Lewis and Mann (1971) report that pinfish ceased feeding when water
temperature reached 36°C and succumbed after 24 hours at 36°C.
Snelson and Bradley (1979) report a mortality event in which large numbers of
pinfish (70-150 mm) were killed when winter surface water temperatures fell to
Pinfish are considered euryhaline. They spend most of their time in the
estuaries, but they spawn in fully marine coastal waters and they are also
frequently encountered in low-salinity environments (FWRI 2006). The
literature contains several accounts of juvenile pinfish being collected from
fresh water (Randall et al. 1978, Johnson 1978, Burgess 1980). Hellier (1962)
reports pinfish occurring in hypersaline waters as high as 75 ppt.
Cameron (1970) reports that the oxygen-carrying capacity of pinfish blood
increases as in response to decreased environmental oxygen, increased activity
levels, and increased salinity, all of which increase respiratory demand.
Bioassays have indicated that pinfish are highly susceptible to the pesticide
Antimycin A, PCB's, and the insecticide mirex (Finucane 1969, Hansen et al.
1971, Tagatz 1976). Wohlschlag and Cameron (1967) reported that petrochemical
wastes depressed pinfish respiration and caused up to 10% mortality in polluted
waters near Corpus Christi, TX.
V. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY
Juvenile and subadult pinfish are voracious and efficient predators who feed
primarily on small crustaceans such as shrimp, mysids, and amphipods (Carr and
Adams 1972, Stoner 1979, Nelson 1979). Other dietary items include fish eggs,
insect larvae, decapod crabs, bivalves and polychaetes (FWRI 2006). Larval
pinfish feed primarily on calanoid copepods (Stoner 1979).
As they mature, the species exhibits an ontogenetic dietary shift, with older
animals consuming increasing amounts of plant material in addition to animal
prey (Stoner 1980). Luczkovich et al. (1995) notes that this shift accompanies
a physical change in the shape of the incisors to a flat-topped morphology and
a change in foraging technique from suctorial and ram feeding to biting.
The high seasonal abundance of pinfish in Florida inshore waters is believed
capable of shaping the structure of small phytal invertebrate communities
(Stoner 1980). Intense pinfish predation on several species of amphipods in
the spring and summer months is likely limiting the population sizes of these
prey species (Nelson 1979). Consumption of plant and detrital material by
adult pinfish also affects the way in which these refractory organic materials
are cycled through the estuary (Adams 1976).
Given the seasonal numerical dominance of Lagodon rhomboides within the
estuaries, the most severe competition is likely to be intraspecific in nature,
with pinfish of the same size class competing with one another for food
While important as consumers of a variety of small invertebrate prey items,
pinfish are equally important as a prey resource for several larger fish
species, including gars, ladyfish, spotted seatrout, redfish, bighead sea
robin, southern and Gulf flounders, and others (Darcy 1985, FWRI 2006).
Pinfish are also a common prey species of bottlenose dolphin (Muncy 1984).
The isopod Lironeca ovalis and the haematozoan Haemogreyarina bigemina have
been reported as important parasites of Lagodon rhomboides (Muncy 1984).
Parasite infestation was reported as the most prevalent gross external
abnormality in Florida Gulf coast pinfish, whereas ulcers/lesions were most
common on the Atlantic coast (FWRI 2006).
Lagodon rhomboides is an abundant demersal estuarine species typically found in
vegetated benthic habitats such as seagrass beds. The species is also commonly
encountered over bare sand, rock reefs, in mangrove habitats, and off of inlet
jetties (Randall et al. 1978, Robbins and Ray 1986). Juveniles 20-80 mm are
most abundant in shallow, vegetated habitats.
Caldwell (1957) reported that pinfish were free-swimming during the day, while
Hastings et al. (1976) suggested they prefer to remain under cover at night.
Trawl catches from Whitewater Bay, FL, contained the greatest abundance of
pinfish when trawls were conducted at night when tidal currents were minimal
and where aquatic vegetation was abundant (Clark 1974).
Stoner (1979) reports that juveniles will leave the protection of seagrass
habitats to venture into adjacent bare sand patches.
VI. SPECIAL STATUS
Minor commercial fisheries centered on Lagodon rhomboides exist, including a
Florida baitfish fishery. The species is also expoited by anglers as a
minor sportfish. Most landings of pinfish in Florida are made by the
recreational fishery; in 2005, approximately 96% of the 1,424,302 pounds of
pinfish landed in Florida were landed by recreational anglers (FWRI 2006). 85%
of this total was landed on the Gulf coast.
Randall at el. (1978) suggested pinfish as a potential source of fish meal, and
Hildebrand and cable (1938) noted that the species yielded a high grade of oil.
There appears to be little or no present-day use of the species for these
purposes in Florida.
Pinfish have also been used extensively as test organisms, primarily in
pesticide toxicity assays (Finucane 1969, Muncy 1984).
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pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides) and striped mullet (Mugil cephalus). Comparative
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Clark SH. 1974. A study of variation in trawl data collected in Everglades
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J. Masterson, Smithsonian Marine Station
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