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White mullet, Mugil curema. Photograph Universidad Autonoma Metropolitina, Mexico.

Species Name: Mugil curema Valenciennes, 1836
Common Name: White Mullet
Silver Mullet
Synonymy: Liza curema Valenciennes, 1836
Mugil metzelaari Chabanaud, 1926
Mugil petrosus Valenciennes, 1836
Myxus harengus Gunther, 1861
  1. TAXONOMY

    Kingdom Phylum/Division Class: Order: Family: Genus:
    Animalia Chordata Actinopterigi Mugiliformes Mugilidae Mugil

    Species Description

    Species Description: Mugil curema is a pelagic schooling fish in the family Mugilidae (Carvalho 2007). Its body is compressed and elongate. The dorsal surface of the white mullet is blue, green or olive with bluish reflections while sides are silvery providing camouflage from predators. Juvenile M. curema have a bright gold or yellow spot behind the opercle (bony plates which support the gill covers) (Bonner 2007). There is marked variation in the number of scales and pectoral fin rays among different populations. Most individuals have widely separated spiny-rayed dorsal fins with 4 spines and nine soft rays and pelvic fins with 1 spine and 5 branched soft rays. The anal fin has 3 spines and 9 soft rays (Nirchio et al. 2005).

    Larval white mullet that are larger than 7 mm can be distinguished from its congener M. cephalus by the longer caudal peduncle and the pigmented second dorsal fin found on M. cephalus (Ditty and Shaw 1996).

    Potentially Misidentified Species

    Mugil cephalus Linnaeus, 1758, Mugil brasiliensis Spix and Agassiz, 1831 and Mugil gaimardianus Desmarest, 1831

  2. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION

    Regional Occurrence

    Mugil curema occurs throughout the western hemisphere in the Western Atlantic from Nova Scotia to Bermuda, Gulf of Mexico to southern Brazil, and in the Eastern Atlantic from the Gulf of California to Chile (Nirchio et al. 2005, Bonner 2007) Adult white mullets are usually found in coastal waters such as bays, beaches, lagoons, and tidal rivers. Spawning events occur offshore along the outer continental shelf (Marin et al. 2003). Juveniles are usually abundant in bays and estuaries in the Atlantic coast (Bozeman and Dean 1987, Bonner 2007). The white mullet is most commonly found in habitats with submerged vegetation (Castillo-Rivera et al. 2002).

    IRL Distribution

    Schools of white mullet are common in the salt marshes of the Indian River Lagoon (Nordlie 2003) and occur in its impounded wetlands in the spring (Poulakis et al. 2002).

  3. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY

    Age, Size, Lifespan

    The average lifespan of Mugil curema is about 19 years (Bonner 2007). Adults can reach a maximum size of 355-360 mm standard length. Males and females are not reproductive until they reach the minimum size of 180 and 208 mm total length, respectively (Aguirre and Gallardo-Cabello 2004). Juveniles grow approximately 30-40 cm in 4 years. Males reach maturity beginning at two years of age and females mature at 3 years. The male to female ratio in a school is approximately equal (Aguirre and Gallardo-Cabello 2004).

    Abundance

    Mugil curema are most abundant during April and May, and found less frequently in August-September (Schauss 1977, Ditty and Shaw 1996). The Gulf of Mexico is one of the more heavy populated areas for M. curema (Nirchio et al. 2005).

    Migration

    Prejuvenile white mullet migrate from open seawater to estuaries and lagoons (Bonner 2007). In the fall of the first year, the young will school and move south to Florida and other subtropical and tropical regions (Jacot 1920).

    Reproduction

    M. curema are hermaphrodites and release their eggs and sperm simultaneously. The reproductive season of M. curema varies in locations throughout its range (Marin et al. 2003). In the Gulf of Mexico, the spawning season lasts from February to May (Aguirre and Gallardo-Cabello 2004). In North and South Carolina, the white mullet primarily spawns in the fall and winter (Bozeman and Dean 1987).

    Embryology

    The unfertilized eggs of the white mullet average about 0.82 mm in diameter. When the egg is fertilized, it increases to an average diameter of 0.90 mm. The embryos have a yolk sac, therefore the pelagic larvae are non-feeding. Juveniles start migrating to beaches and in estuaries at about 28 days old (Collins 1985).

  4. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES

    No information is available at this time

  5. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY

    Trophic Mode

    Juveniles are omnivorous and receive the majority of their nutrition from the plankton. Juvenile and adult Mugil curema feed mostly on sediment particles, detritus, diatoms, green algae, and blue-green algae, as well as similar proportions of each item.

  6. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

    Fishery

    Mugil curema is a commercially important fish throughout the world (Marin et al. 2003). The wholesale landing value for the white mullet in the Gulf Coast states from 1994-1998 was reported to be 38.2 million dollars. Mugil curema also represents a substantial recreational fishery.

  7. REFERENCES

    Aguirre ALI and M Gallardo-Cabello. 2004. Reproduction of Mugil cephalus and M. curema (Pisces: Mugilidae) from a coastal lagoon in the Gulf of Mexico. Bulletin of Marine Science 75:37-49.

    Bonner T. 2007. Identification and information for Texas fish. Available online.

    Carvalho CD. 2007. Schooling behavior in Mugil curema in an estuary in Southern Brazil. Neotropical Icthyology 5: 81-83.

    Collins M. 1985. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (South Florida) White Mullet. Biological Report 82 (11.39) Department of Zoology University of Florida Gainesville FL 32611.

    Castillo-Rivera M, Zavala-Hurtado JA, and R Z‡rate. 2002. Exploration of spatial and temporal patterns of fish diversity and composition in a tropical estuarine system of Mexico. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 12:167-177.

    Ditty JG and RF Shaw. 1996. Spatial and temporal distribution of larval striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) and white mullet (M. curema, Family: Muglidae) in the northern Gulf of Mexico, with notes on mountain mullet, Agonostomus monticola. Bulletin of Marine Science 59:271-288.

    FishBase. Available online.

    Mora C and AF Osp'na. 2001. Tolerance to high temperatures and potential impact of sea warming on reef fishes of Gorgona Island (tropical eastern Pacific). Marine Biology 139:765-769.

    Jacot AP.1920. Age, growth, and scale characters of the mullets, Mugil cephalus and Mugil curema. Transactions of the American Fishery Society 39:199-229.

    Marin E, Quintero BJA, Bussi_re D, and JJ Dodson. 2003. Reproduction and recruitment of white mullet (Mugil curema) to a tropical lagoon (Margarita Island, Venezuela) as revealed by otolith microstructure. Fishery Bulletin 101: 809-821.

    McDonough CJ. Striped Mullet, Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Society, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. PDF document available online.

    Nirchio M, Cipriano R, Cestari M, and A Fenocchio. 2005. Cytogenetical amd morphological features reveal significant differences among Venazuelan and Brazillian samples of Mugil curema. Neotropical Ichthology 3:107-110.

    Nordlie FG. 2003. Fish communities of estuarine salt marshes of eastern North America, and comparisons with temperate estuaries of other continents. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 13:281-325.

    Poulakis GR, Shenker JM, and DS Taylor. 2002. Habitat use by fishes after tidal reconnection of an impounded estuarine wetland in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida (USA). Wetlands Ecology and Management 10:51-69.

    Schauss, RP, Jr. 1977. Seasonal occurrence of some larval and juvenile fishes in Lynnhaven Bay, Virginia. The American Midland Naturalist 98:275-282.

Report by: Melany P. Puglisi and James Lott, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: October 1, 2008

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