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Ocyurus chrysurus
Lutjanus synagris
Lutjanus mahogoni
Lutjanus analis
Lutjanus cyanopterus
Lutjanus griseus
Lutjanus apodus
Lutjanus jocu
Lutjanus buccanella
Lutjanus campechanus
Lutjanus vivanus
 
INTRODUCTION TO LUTJANID LARVAE
The snappers are a prominent family of predatory fishes found in all tropical waters and are often associated with reef or mangrove habitats. The deeper-water species, in particular, are an important component of fisheries in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. There are numerous snapper species in the region and most of them can be found on coral reefs. The shallow-water snappers are almost all members of the large genus Lutjanus spp. The one exception, the yellowtail snapper Ocyurus chrysurus, falls well within the Lutjanus spp. clade in phylogenetic studies. There are four additional deep-water lutjanid genera, three with only a single Caribbean representative.
 
Larval snappers exhibit the standard percoid characters shared to some degree by many other families: a wide body, large round eye, large terminal mouth, stout spines in the fins and a short anal fin with three spines. Lutjanid larvae are distinctive in having a large non-serrated spine at the angle of the preopercle. Fin-ray counts broadly overlap with two other common reef-fish families: the seabasses and groupers (Serranidae) and the grunts (Haemulidae). Separating snappers from serranids is not always easy and useful characters are discussed in detail below. Grunts are easy to distinguish since they have narrower bodies, short non-serrated dorsal-fin spines, and they are typically much smaller at each stage of development.
 
Regional Species: There are at least ten Lutjanus spp. in the region. The shallow-water species show a curious pattern of pairs of similar species. DNA sequence analyses reveal that some of these pairs are close relatives, but some are not. There is a pair of small snappers with a lateral spot that are closely-related: the mahogany snapper L. mahogoni and the lane snapper L. synagris. This pair is distinct in having only twelve dorsal-fin soft rays (D-X,12), while the remaining species in the genus have fourteen (D-X,14). The mutton snapper L. analis has a similar lateral spot but is more distantly related.
 
A separate group is made up of snappers without a lateral spot and with bars and/or a stripe through the eye. The schoolmaster snapper L. apodus and the dog snapper L. jocu are similar and differ primarily in lateral line scale counts and some markings. The gray snapper L. griseus and the cubera snapper L. cyanopterus make up another pair that appear similar as adults; small cubera snappers are almost identical to gray snappers but are typically distinguished by growing to a much larger size, up to 125 pounds and over four feet in length. Interestingly, my mtDNA sequence analyses suggest that these two species are not closely-related; gray snappers are part of the schoolmaster/dog clade while the cubera snapper is well out on its own branch in the phylogenetic tree.
 
Three Lutjanus spp. are predominantly deep-water denizens, although juveniles occasionally occur in shallower reef areas: the blackfin snapper L. buccanella, the silk snapper L. vivanus, and the red snapper, L. campechanus. The southern red snapper, L. purpureus, has recently been shown to have identical DNA sequences at multiple loci to the red snapper, L. campechanus, indicating that it represents the southern population of the red snapper (Gomes et al. 2007). L. campechanus from the Gulf of Mexico typically have nine anal fin spines, but outside of the Gulf they likely share the modal eight anal fin rays of the other species in the genus. These deep-water Lutjanus spp. have typical fin ray counts (D-X,14 Pect-17) and fall within the same clade as the lateral-spot snappers. Interestingly, they also have lateral spots, at least to some degree, as juveniles.
 
There are four other lutjanid genera with a single Caribbean species each. The common yellowtail snapper Ocyurus chrysurus (D-X,13 A-III,9 Pect-15-16) forages in open water and thus has a more streamlined body form than other snappers. As a result, it has been placed in its own genus. Nevertheless, in phylogenetic studies it falls well within the Lutjanus spp. clade and probably should be included in that genus. Three deep-water snapper genera have a single regional species each and comprise Apsilus dentatus (D-X,10 Pect-15-16), Etelis oculatus (D-X,11 Pect-15-16), and Rhomboplites aurorubens (D-XII,11 Pect-17-18). The remaining deep-water snapper genus has three species, all with the same fin-ray counts of D-X,11 Pect-15-16: Pristipomoides aquilonaris, P. freemani, and P. macrophthalmus.
 
Diagnostic Characters for Lutjanid Larvae:
Early-stage Larvae: Less-developed lutjanid larvae occasionally appear in collections made over the reef. They conform to many of the basic features of percoid larvae: large head, large round eye, large mouth with a prominent jaw angle, prominent preopercular spines, a wide body, continuous dorsal fins with stout spines, a short anal fin with three stout spines, and elongated and stout pelvic-fin spines. Features more specific to lutjanids, especially Lutjanus spp., are the moderately-serrated dorsal and pelvic-fin spines (these spines and the anal-fin spines often have anterior serrations as well), the first pelvic-fin ray longer than the spine, a non-serrated spine at the angle of the preopercle, and, most distinctive, a post-cleithral spine.
 
A number of families have similar-appearing early-stage larvae, fortunately few occur in the Atlantic. The most likely confusion in the region is with serranid larvae, especially since there is some overlap in fin-ray counts between Caribbean lutjanid and serranid species. In general, serranid species in the region have only seven (serranines) or nine or ten (epinephelines) anal-fin soft rays, and most lutjanids have eight, but this is a fine point for distinguishing larvae.
 
The most difficult to distinguish at early stages are the D-X,12 snappers and the Serranus spp. (the epinepheline serranids have more dorsal-fin soft rays). In this case, the early-stage larval snappers have mildly-serrated fin-ray spines and the prominent non-serrated preopercular spine while the Serranus spp. have smooth spines and no prominent preopercular spine.
 
There is a slight fin-ray-count difference between the D-X,14 snappers and the epinepheline serranids. Virtually all of the Caribbean epinephelines have either eight, nine, or eleven dorsal-fin spines and most have more than 14 dorsal-fin soft rays and nine or ten anal-fin soft rays: lutjanids have ten dorsal-fin spines (one with 12), 14 and fewer dorsal-fin soft rays, and eight anal-fin soft rays (two with nine). In addition, the few overlapping epinephalines have 18 or more pectoral-fin rays (vs. 16-17 in the lutjanids).
 
The pretransitional larval epinephelines have markedly-serrated and extended dorsal and pelvic-fin spines, while the snappers do not. In addition, the second dorsal-fin spine is usually markedly longer than the third vs. slightly longer or similar in length in the late-stage larval snappers (this distinction may not apply to some deep-water snapper genera). The snapper preopercular spine is notably non-serrated, while that of the epinephelines is serrated, but that is not always obvious on initial inspection. In addition, lutjanids have the first pelvic-fin soft ray longer than the spine vs. distinctly shorter in epinephelines. Finally, there is a characteristic post-cleithral spine in lutjanid larvae that is not present in the serranids. (Note: special thanks to Jeff Leis and his books).
Lutjanus (synagris) larva
5.1 mm SL
Dorsal formula X,12
note post-cleithral spine and serrated
pelvic-fin spines (vs. Serranus spp.),
and first pelvic-fin ray longer than spine
(vs. the epinepheline groupers )
San Blas, Panama, SB86-1103
 
 
Lutjanus (griseus) larva
6.0 mm SL
note post-cleithral spine, melanophores at
base of dorsal fin spine membranes
San Blas, Panama, SB81-040
 
 
Late-Stage Larvae: Lutjanid larvae in general share a number of basic features, most particularly a long non-serrated preopercular spine. The spine decreases in length during transition and disappears in juveniles. There are also smaller spines lining the lower and posterior margins of the preopercle that similarly decrease in prominence during transition. Pretransitional larvae can show a row of fine serrations along the supraorbital bony ridge (preopercular spine and supraorbital serrations visible at the top of the photograph below of a 12.2 mm SL grey snapper larva, L. griseus).
 
Marking patterns on the late larvae of most snappers can be quite similar, and comprise variations of the basic theme of mostly dorsal-facing melanophores. This suggests that melanophores function as shielding, protecting vulnerable organs from sunlight. Indeed, it would be plausible to infer from this pattern that snapper larvae are living near the ocean surface during the day. Melanophores shield the brain and spinal column by running along the top of the brain itself, at the surface over the braincase, along the dorsal fins, and along the dorsal caudal peduncle. Internal melanophores line the dorsal aspect of the vertebral column, often with an additional short row beside or below the column near the tail. Melanophores line the dorsal surface of the swim-bladder and peritoneum (overlying the abdominal organs). In addition, the inner-facing cleithrum (the lower rear wall of the gill cavity) is pigmented and overlies thoracic structures. Additional melanophores present on most species' larvae include a few deep at the lateral midline on the caudal peduncle, a ventral midline caudal peduncle row (often just one or two large melanophores), a few at the very base of the lower caudal-fin segmented rays, and along the base of the membranes of the anal-fin rays. A distinctive deep melanophore is present from the early stages under the pterygiophores of the last anal-fin rays (an additional "repeat" melanophore is sometimes present on the next segment anteriorly). The internal vertebral melanophores can be seen on the transitional larval yellowtail snapper photograph below (Ocyurus chrysurus, 17.0 mm SL) and beginning in the early larva of L. griseus, photographed above).
 Ocyurus chrysurus
(Lutjanus chrysurus)
 
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,13 A-III,9 indicate Ocyurus chrysurus. (DNA)
Analogues:
Pretransitional larvae (mostly-unmarked stage, usually from 12-17 mm SL) can be separated from the other regional snappers by the dorsal-fin-ray count. Additional useful distinguishing features include the dorsal and anal-fin spines relatively slender (shared with L. cyanopterus and L. analis), the second to fifth dorsal-fin spines about the same length, the anal-fin spines without prominent anterior serrations (vs. L. griseus, L. apodus and L. jocu), the third anal-fin spine usually longer than the second (the tip of the third almost always extending farther back than the tip of the second when folded down), no lateral spot or bars, and a thin stripe of small surface melanophores extending forward along the lateral midline from the center of the caudal peduncle. The occasional individual has at most one or two melanophores at the base of the lowest of the upper caudal fin segmented rays (vs. several in L. synagris and L. mahogoni).
Transitional O. chrysurus larvae develop a mostly-uniform scattering of small melanophores on the body with no lateral spot or bars, distinguishing them from most other regional snappers. Early in transition, the row of fine surface melanophores extending forward from the caudal peduncle along the lateral midline distinguishes the species from other snappers. Later in transition and in juveniles, a pale midline lateral stripe is diagnostic (yellow in live specimens).
Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.

Mostly unmarked stage, usually from 12-17 mm SL:
Body: Pretransitional larvae develop a row of melanophores on the side of the body near the base of the dorsal fin. The row starts as a series of short angled lines along the anterior aspect of each pterygiophore below the soft dorsal fin, then small melanophores fill in the row. The row extends forward on the body below the spinous portion of the fin, first as a few spots beneath the seventh and eighth spines and the ninth and tenth spines, and then filling in, up to the level of the third dorsal-fin spine. The two rows on each side of the body merge into a band of melanophores lining the dorsal midline of the caudal peduncle extending to the start of the procurrent caudal-fin rays. A similar band develops along the ventral midline of the caudal peduncle extending forward and ending just before a single large melanophore underlying the pterygiophores of the last anal-fin rays. There are a few deep melanophores at the end of the lateral midline of the caudal peduncle and a fine speckling of small melanophores around the central caudal peduncle extending forward in a thin line along the lateral midline. There is a single large melanophore underlying the pterygiophores of the last anal-fin rays. A series of short angled lines of small melanophores develops along the anterior aspect of the anal-fin pterygiophores, starting between the second and fifth fin rays.
Head: Melanophores on the head consist of dense patches overlying the brain and on the surface braincase. There are small melanophores around the tip of the upper jaw, along the adjacent snout, and along the tip of the lower jaw. The opercular area is covered in iridescence extending down to the pelvic-fin insertion. The inner cleithral surface of the gill cavity is speckled with large melanophores and there are internal melanophores lining the dorsal aspect of the swim bladder and peritoneum extending down to the vent and overlain by a silvery camouflage layer.
Fin Spines: The dorsal and anal fin spines are relatively slender, without prominent internal reticulations. The second to fifth dorsal-fin spines are about the same length (the second sometimes shorter). The anal fin spines do not show anterior serrations. The third anal fin spine is usually longer than the second (the tip of the third almost always extending farther back than the tip of the second when folded down).
Fins: Melanophores are present along most of the length of the membrane just behind the second dorsal-fin spine and then near the outer edges of most of the subsequent membranes of the spinous portion of the dorsal fin. There are a few melanophores between the bases of the lower central caudal-fin segmented rays and the occasional individual has, at most, one or two melanophores at the base of the lowest of the upper caudal-fin segmented rays. A row of melanophores develops along the anal-fin base, one at the base of each anal-fin-ray membrane, often including the membrane behind the third-spine. Some individuals have melanophores on the distal half of the two longest pelvic-fin rays.

Transitional stage:
Transitional larvae develop a relatively uniform scattering of tiny melanophores on the body,
Ocyurus chrysurus larva
16.7 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-024
Notes on Lutjanus spp.

Distinguishing the larvae of the numerous Lutjanus spp. in the region can be difficult since many share the basic body form as well as most fin-ray counts. Fortunately, two common species, both with a lateral spot, do separate out by meristics: L. mahogoni and L. synagris have only twelve vs. the typical 14 dorsal-fin soft rays for the genus. Beyond this, distinctions can be difficult, even for juveniles, since transitional and juvenile snappers in general can share many of the basic markings that later distinguish species (such as lateral spots, incipient bar patterns, and eye stripes). This pattern of earlier stages sharing characters that later diverge is commonly seen in reef fishes.

 
My DNA sequencing has clarified the identification of the late-stage larvae of all but one of the shallow-water 14-dorsal-rayed species (except L. jocu). The deep-water species, L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus, await more sampling for a complete treatment. Unfortunately, larvae of the Lutjanus spp. are very similar and some of the more important characters that distinguish species can change rapidly during transition. This requires that larvae be compared with others at the same stage of development. In the analogues section for each species below, I try to indicate which features are important at which stage. Marking patterns in this group are particularly labile, but are still valuable for identifications. Relative dorsal-fin spine lengths can be important characters, but also change during transition. It is likely that some early pretransitional snapper larvae will require DNA sequencing for species identification.
 
12-rayed Lutjanus spp.
 
 
Lutjanus mahogoni
 
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,12 A-III,8 indicate Lutjanus mahogoni or L. synagris. Juveniles with the lateral line running through the middle of the lateral spot indicate L. mahogoni. (DNA)

Analogues:
Pretransitional larvae (mostly-unmarked stage, usually from 17-21 mm SL) can be separated from the 14-dorsal-rayed snappers by the dorsal-fin-ray count, as well as by having melanophores at the bases of the upper as well as the lower caudal-fin segmented rays. The dorsal and anal-fin spines of larval L. mahogoni are also stout (compared to relatively slender in L. analis, L. cyanopterus, and Ocyurus chrysurus). L. mahogoni larvae at this stage also do not have distinct anterior serrations persisting on the anal fin spines (occasional individuals do have a few remnant serrations)(vs. L. griseus, L. apodus and L. jocu), and the second anal-fin spine is only slightly longer than the third and their tips are usually closely-approximated when the fin is down. Almost all pretransitional L. mahogoni captured over the reef already show the lateral spot, unlike the spotted 14-dorsal-rayed species. The two 12-dorsal-rayed snappers are best distinguished by the relative lengths of the second and third dorsal-fin spines: in L. mahogoni the second dorsal-fin spine is longer than the third spine with the tip often overlapping the tip of the third vs. shorter than the third spine in L. synagris.
Transitional larvae of L. mahogoni always have a lateral spot, then they subsequently develop bars (vs. bars, then a spot on L. analis). The spot is large and expands the bar, unlike the spotted 14-dorsal-rayed snappers. There is usually a difference in the spot location between the two 12-rayed species (although some individuals do overlap): the lateral line runs through the middle of the spot in L. mahogoni and through the lower third of the spot in L. synagris. In addition, the second dorsal-fin spine is longer than the third (or about equal) for L. mahogoni vs. shorter in L. synagris and this difference persists in juveniles up to 25 mm SL.
Some transitional larvae and early recruits of L. analis with a lateral spot can look remarkably similar to L. mahogoni (not an issue for the many transitional L. analis who have not developed the lateral spot and have only the backward-sloping bars). Other than the soft dorsal fin-ray counts and the stoutness of the fin spines (14 and relatively slender in L. analis), the species can be separated by some marking differences: the lateral spot runs through the middle of the lateral spot in L. mahogoni (vs. through the lower third) and the spot is larger in L. mahogoni, expanding the bar from which it develops, while in L. analis the spot is only as wide as the bar from which it forms. In addition, the bars on the body of transitional L. mahogoni slant backward less than those of L. analis. In addition, most transitional recruits of L. mahogoni and L. synagris develop dark edging to the dorsal-fin membranes above the lateral spot, while the markings are uniform on those dorsal-fin membranes in L. analis.
Juvenile L. mahogoni and L. synagris can be distinguished by the lateral-spot location and the relative dorsal-spine-length characters. They both have yellow stripes as juveniles, although the stripes become thinner and less conspicuous on juvenile L. mahogoni and more prominent on later juvenile L. synagris. Juvenile L. analis have their lateral spot higher on the body (lateral line through the lower third of the spot). Larval L. mahogoni often have an upturned preopercular spine, but this character is not consistent. The preopercular outline is similar in the two species, with L. mahogoni larvae and juveniles not showing the notch pattern that occurs later. The relative dorsal-spine lengths and spot position persist in juveniles up to 25 mm SL.

Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.

Mostly unmarked stage, usually from 17-21 mm SL:
Body: Pretransitional larvae develop a row of melanophores on the side of the body near the base of the dorsal fin. The row starts as small melanophores, often lined up along the anterior aspect of the pterygiophores below the soft dorsal fin. The row fills in under the soft dorsal fin and extends forward just below the spinous portion of the fin, first as a few spots beneath the third to fifth spines and the seventh to ninth, and then filling in up to the level of the third dorsal-fin spine. The two rows on each side of the dorsal fin merge into a line of melanophores lining the dorsal midline of the caudal peduncle (usually made up of a short row of deeper and larger larval melanophores overlain by a band of smaller melanophores). A similar line develops along the ventral midline of the caudal peduncle extending forward and ending just before a single large melanophore underlying the pterygiophores of the last anal-fin rays. There are a few deep melanophores at the end of the lateral midline of the caudal peduncle and a fine speckling of small melanophores around the central caudal peduncle.
Head: Melanophores on the head consist of dense patches overlying the brain and on the surface braincase. There are small melanophores around the tips of the upper and lower jaws. The opercular area is covered in iridescence extending down to the pelvic-fin insertion. The inner cleithral surface of the gill cavity is speckled with large melanophores and there are internal melanophores lining the dorsal aspect of the swim bladder and peritoneum extending down to the vent and overlain by a silvery camouflage layer.
Fin Spines: The dorsal and anal fin spines are relatively stout, usually with some internal reticulations. The tip of the second dorsal-fin spine often curves slightly upward (the preopercular spine often curves slightly upward as well). The second dorsal-fin spine is usually longer than the third and typically the tip overlaps or extends beyond the tip of the third. The dorsal-fin spines then become progressively and evenly shorter such that the profile of the spinous tips forms a straight downward-sloping line. The anal-fin spines do not show anterior serrations (a rare individual has small remnant serrations). The second anal-fin spine is longer than the third, but the tips are closely-approximated or the third extends slightly farther back than the tip of the second when folded down.
Fins: Melanophores are prominent along most of the length of the membrane just behind the second dorsal-fin spine and are concentrated on the membrane tag extending beyond the spine. Smaller melanophores speckle the outer third of all of the subsequent membranes of the spinous portion of the dorsal fin. On the caudal fin there are a few small melanophores at the base of some of the upper as well as most of the lower segmented rays. A row of melanophores develops along the anal-fin base, one at the base of each anal-fin-ray membrane, often including the membrane behind the third-spine.

O

Lutjanus mahogoni larva
16.7 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB86
 
 
Lutjanus synagris
 
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,12 A-III,8 indicate Lutjanus synagris or L. mahogoni. Juveniles with the lateral line running through the lower third of the lateral spot indicate L. synagris. (DNA)
Analogues:
Pretransitional larvae (mostly-unmarked stage, usually from 13-19 mm SL) can be separated from the 14-dorsal-rayed snappers by the dorsal-fin-ray count, as well as having melanophores at the bases of the upper as well as the lower caudal-fin segmented rays. L. synagris larvae at this stage also do not have distinct anterior serrations persisting on the anal fin spines (occasional individuals do have a few remnant serrations) and the second anal-fin spine is only slightly longer than the third and their tips are closely-approximated when the fin is down. Almost all pretransitional L. synagris captured over the reef already show the lateral spot, unlike the spotted 14-dorsal-rayed species. The two 12-dorsal-rayed snappers are best distinguished by the relative lengths of the second and third dorsal-fin spines: in L. synagris the second dorsal-fin spine is shorter than the third spine vs. longer (pretransitional larvae) to about equal (late in transition) to the third spine in L. mahogoni.
Transitional larvae of L. synagris always have a lateral spot, then they subsequently develop bars (vs. bars, then a spot on L. analis). The spot is large and expands the bar, unlike the spotted 14-dorsal-rayed snappers. There is usually a difference in the spot location between the two 12-rayed species (although some individuals do overlap): the lateral line runs through the lower third of the spot in L. synagris and through the middle of the spot in L. mahogoni. In addition, the second dorsal-fin spine shorter than the third for L. synagris (vs. longer or equal in L. mahogoni) difference persists in juveniles up to 25 mm SL.
Some transitional larvae and early recruits of L. analis with a lateral spot can look remarkably similar to L. synagris (not an issue for the many transitional L. analis who have not developed the lateral spot and have only the backward-sloping bars). Other than the soft dorsal fin-ray counts (14 in L. analis), the species can be separated by some subtle marking differences: the location of the lateral spot is the same in the two species (lateral line running through the lower third of the spot), but the spot is larger in L. synagris, expanding the bar from which it develops, while in L. analis the spot is only as wide as the bar from which it forms. In addition, the bars on the body of transitional L. synagris slant backward less than those of L. analis. Nevertheless, the most consistent difference is the angle of the bar anterior to the lateral spot: in L. synagris the bar brackets the spot, i.e. curves forward just below the dorsal fin and then slants backwards below the level of the spot, while in L. analis the bar slopes evenly down to the rear from the base of the dorsal fin across the body. In addition, most L. synagris and L. mahogoni have dark edging to the dorsal-fin membranes above the lateral spot, while the markings are uniform on those dorsal-fin membranes in L. analis. On new recruits, the iridescent stripes along the lower side of the body characteristic of L. synagris are absent in L. analis.
The lateral-spot location and the relative dorsal-spine-length characters separate juvenile L. synagris and L. mahogoni. They both have yellow stripes as juveniles, although the stripes become prominent on later juvenile L. synagris and thinner and less conspicuous on juvenile L. mahogoni. Juvenile L. analis can have the lateral spot in the same location as L. synagris and can also have yellow stripes on the side of the body: ultimately, the species can be separated by the soft-dorsal-fin-ray count.
Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.
Mostly unmarked stage, usually from 13-19 mm SL:
Body: Pretransitional larvae develop a row of melanophores on the body near the base of the dorsal fin, first along the pterygiophores supporting the soft dorsal fin (starting between the second and sixth rays) and then extending along the spinous portion as a few spots between the seventh and eighth spines and the ninth and tenth spines. As development continues, the row of melanophores below the dorsal fin fills-in and extends forward to the level of the third spine (the base of the last three soft rays remains unmarked well into transition). Melanophores line the dorsal and ventral midlines of the caudal peduncle and there are a few scattered surface melanophores above and below the midline. There are some deep melanophores visible along the posterior lateral midline of the caudal peduncle. Forward of the ventral midline row there is a a large melanophore underlying the pterygiophores of the last anal-fin rays.
Head: Melanophores on the head consist of dense patches overlying the brain and on the surface braincase. There are small melanophores around the tips of the upper and lower jaws. The opercular area is covered in iridescence extending down to the pelvic-fin insertion. The inner cleithral surface of the gill cavity is speckled with large melanophores and there are internal melanophores lining the dorsal aspect of the swim bladder and peritoneum extending down to the vent and overlain by a silvery camouflage layer.
Fin Spines: The dorsal and anal fin spines are relatively stout, usually with some internal reticulations. The anal-fin spines do not show anterior serrations. The second anal-fin spine is usually longer than the third (the tip of the second almost always lining up with or extending farther back than the tip of the third when folded down).
Fins: Small melanophores speckle the distal two-thrids of the dorsal-fin-spine membranes. On the caudal fin there are a few small melanophores at the base of some of the upper as well as most of the lower segmented rays. A row of melanophores develops along the anal-fin base, one at the base of each anal-fin-ray membrane, often including the membrane behind the third-spine.
Transitional larvae develop bars along the side of the body that slant slightly backwards with a prominent lateral spot under the anterior soft dorsal fin. The lateral line runs through the lower third of the spot. Later, iridescent bars form at each side of the lateral spot, bracketing the black spot up to the base of the dorsal fin. The dark bar just anterior to the spot curves forward following the bracket before continuing down slanting to the rear. An additional set of thin iridescent stripes develops along the lower side alternating with thin stripes of melanophores (in life the pale stripes are yellow). The dorsal-fin membranes above the lateral spot typically show a rim of dark edging in new recruits. On the head the snout patch of melanophores meets with the dorsal head markings, the lower jaw patch extends down most of the way along the lower jaw and melanophores fill in between the eye and the jaws in a loose stripe mostly below the line from the center of the eye to the tip of the snout.
Lutjanus synagris larva
17.7 mm SL
note internal melanophores over vertebrae
San Blas, Panama, SB81-039
Lutjanus synagris transitional larva
16.4 mm SL
note incipient bar pattern
San Blas, Panama, SB81-047
Lutjanus synagris transitional recruit
17.7 mm SL
lightly marked, note faint bars and stripes
and iridescent bars bracketing the spot
St. Thomas, USVI, ST506
 
 
 
14-rayed Lutjanus spp.,
the L. griseus-apodus-jocu clade
 
 
Lutjanus griseus
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,14 A-III,8 are shared among most of the regional Lutjanus spp., including L. analis, L. apodus, L. cyanopterus, L. griseus, L. jocu and the deep-water snappers L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus. Juvenile L. griseus have a prominent dark stripe through the eye, a dark striped body and no lateral spot. (DNA)
Analogues:
Pretransitional larvae (mostly-unmarked stage, usually from 10-13 mm SL) are separated from some other Lutjanus spp. by having distinct serrations persisting on the anterior profile of the anal and dorsal-fin spines (but shared by L. apodus and L. jocu). The L. griseus larval type is distinguished from the L. apodus and L. jocu types at this stage by having the spinous-dorsal-fin melanophores mostly on the proximal half of the membranes and at the dorsal midline around the insertion of the spines (vs. melanophores concentrated on the distal portion of the membranes and sparing the dorsal midline at the base of most of the dorsal spines). Additional features separating L. griseus from L. apodus are a uniform melanophore scattering on the lower caudal peduncle (vs. concentrating as a bar at the posterior half), more melanophores on the tip of the upper than lower jaws, and unmarked pelvic fins (at most a single melanophore).
Transitional L. griseus larvae tend to have a relatively uniform scattering of melanophores on the body with no lateral spot, distinguishing them from the other spotted or barred species (L. mahogoni, L. synagris, L. analis, L. apodus, and the deep-water snappers). Furthermore, transitional L. griseus usually retain anterior serrations on the anal-fin spines separating them from most snappers (except some L. apodus and L. jocu). Some transitional L. griseus may have indistinct bars, but these are typically limited to the upper half of the body (vs. obvious full-body bars in larval L. apodus and L. analis). Another difference on transitional individuals with pigmented caudal peduncles is that the peduncle adjacent to the base of the caudal fin can be abruptly light in L. griseus and uniformly speckled to the base in the other species. Especially on early-transitional stages, L. griseus have a lightly-marked lower jaw and head below the level of the eye (vs. heavily spotted), and pelvic fins mostly unpigmented (vs. covered in melanophores). Later-transitional larvae are darker and can develop a series of parallel stripes across the body. The other uniformly-marked transitional snappers comprise L. jocu and L. cyanopterus. Transitional recruits of L. jocu can appear quite similar to transitional L. griseus; they share the stripes around the eye, but in L. jocu the thin indistinct bars persist without any body stripes developing. Transitional L. cyanopterus have a quite different body shape with a narrower and longer body and a wider caudal peduncle (relative to body depth).
Juvenile L. griseus either have a series of thin stripes on the side of the body or are uniformly dusky. They lack the lateral spot of several other species. They do not show the prominent bars of juvenile L. apodus and they are wider-bodied with a narrower caudal peduncle than juvenile L. cyanopterus. They can share most body markings with juvenile L. jocu, however the dark stripe through the eye and the thin dark stripes on the side of the body intensify in L. griseus, while in juvenile L. jocu the dark stripe through the eye becomes less prominent, the blue line below the eye intensifies, and they develop indistinct bars not stripes.
Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.
Mostly unmarked stage, usually from 10-13 mm SL:
Body: Pretransitional larvae have two patches of melanophores on the body below the dorsal fin: under the last two dorsal-fin spines and first dorsal-fin soft rays and then under the middle of the soft dorsal fin. There is a band of surface melanophores along the anterior half of the dorsal midline of the caudal peduncle and full-length along the ventral midline of the caudal peduncle, extending forward and ending just before a single large melanophore underlying the pterygiophores of the last anal-fin rays. A patch of surface melanophores develops on the caudal peduncle filling in progressively from ventral to dorsal in a mostly uniform pattern, without a distinct clear bar anteriorly on the lower half of the caudal peduncle. There are a few deep melanophores at the end of the lateral midline of the caudal peduncle.
Head: Melanophores on the head consist of a patch overlying the brain and on the surface braincase and around the tip of the upper jaw; at the tip of the lower jaw there are either no melanophores or distinctly fewer than at the tip of the upper jaw. The opercular area is covered in iridescence extending down to the pelvic-fin insertion. The inner cleithral surface of the gill cavity is speckled with large melanophores and there are internal melanophores lining the dorsal aspect of the peritoneum extending down to the vent and overlain by a silvery camouflage layer.
Fin Spines: The dorsal and anal fin spines are relatively stout, with prominent internal reticulations. There are fine serrations along the anterior aspect of the anal and dorsal-fin spines at this stage, typically persisting into transition in this species.
Fins: Melanophores on the dorsal-fin membranes are concentrated between the third and eighth spines, present on the dorsal midline at the base of the membrane and extending halfway or two-thirds up the membranes. The dorsal-midline melanophores are often present from the second to the tenth dorsal-fin spine bases. On the anal fin, there are melanophores on the lower half of the membranes between the anal-fin spines and about half-way up the second anal-fin spine. They continue on the lower half of the membrane between the last spine and the first ray and the next membrane, followed by melanophores only at the base of the membrane for the next few rays. Melanophores are concentrated below the pterygiophores of the last two or three rays (often as one conspicuous large melanophore) where they join the row along the ventral midline of the caudal peduncle. There are often a few melanophores along the proximal portion of the segmented caudal-fin rays in two places: between the bases of the lower-central rays and along the lowest two or three rays, the latter often extending in a line out along the rays.
Transitional stage:
Transitional larvae develop a relatively uniform scattering of melanophores on the body, usually with some indistinct light bars on the upper side of the body. The lower half of the caudal peduncle is uniformly speckled. Melanophores extend from the base out to about two-thirds of the spinous-dorsal-fin membranes. A distinct stripe extends from the eye forward to the tip of the upper jaw and two stripes develop behind the eye and diverge. The tip of the lower jaw, the ventral half of the head and the pelvic fins are lightly speckled in most transitional larvae. The third dorsal-fin spine enlarges during transition, becoming noticeably stouter and longer than the second or fourth. At this point the tips of the third, fourth, and fifth dorsal-fin spines are close together (sometimes the tip of the fourth reaches farther back than the tip of the fifth).
Juveniles:
Juvenile L. griseus are overall dusky with a prominent dark stripe through the eye and a pattern of thin parallel dark lines across the body, mostly below the lateral line. The dorsal fin can have a dark band across the outer portion with white edging. Some individuals occasionally have a blue line running under the eye. They often have reddish ventral fins and can develop a prominent black spot at the base of the pectoral fin.
Lutjanus griseus larva
12.2 mm SL
anterior spine serrations/cleithral pigment
San Blas, Panama, SB81-019
 
 
Lutjanus griseus larva
12.6 mm SL. DNA confirmed ID
San Blas, Panama, SB81-059
 
 
 
Lutjanus griseus early transitional larva
13.7 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-018B
 
 
 
Lutjanus griseus transitional larva
12.4 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
note body widening, 3rd spine enlarging
San Blas, Panama, SB86-701
 
 
 
Lutjanus griseus transitional recruit
13.0 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
indistinct bar pattern
Glover's Reef, Belize, CN
 
 
Lutjanus griseus, transitional recruit
13.9 mm SL, DNA ID pending
speckled transitional variant
Isla Grande, Panama, N7529a
 
Lutjanus griseus, transitional recruit
14.8 mm SL, DNA ID pending
speckled, incipient stripes
Isla Grande, Panama, N7529a
 
 
Lutjanus apodus
 
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,14 A-III,8 are shared among most of the regional Lutjanus spp., including L. analis, L. apodus, L. cyanopterus, L. griseus, L. jocu and the deep-water snappers L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus. Transitional and juvenile L. apodus have a prominent pattern of vertical bars without a lateral spot. (DNA)
Analogues:
Pretransitional larvae (mostly-unmarked stage, usually from 12-15 mm SL) are separated from some other Lutjanus spp. by having distinct serrations persisting on the anterior profile of the anal and dorsal-fin spines (but shared by L. griseus and L. jocu). L. apodus larvae are distinguished from the L. griseus type at this stage by having the dorsal-fin membrane melanophores concentrated on the distal portion of the membranes, only a small patch on the anterior third of the dorsal midline of the caudal peduncle, usually an incipient bar pattern on the lower caudal peduncle, similar numbers of melanophores on the tip of the upper and lower jaws, and often pigmentation along the longest pelvic-fin membrane.
Early transitional L. apodus larvae can be separated from L. griseus by having incipient melanophore bars forming on the lower caudal peduncle (vs. uniform) and having melanophores mostly on the distal half of the spinous-dorsal-fin membranes (vs. proximal and base). Late transitional L. apodus larvae differ from L. griseus by having distinct vertical bars of larger melanophores on the body (vs. uniform, or indistinct bars at most on the upper half of the body), numerous melanophores speckling the cheek, thorax, and pelvic fins (vs. relatively lightly-marked), speckling on the caudal peduncle reaching the base of the caudal fin rays (vs. an unpigmented area), and the dorsal-fin spines are more evenly-sized, with the fifth spine almost as long as the fourth with the tip extending farther back than the fourth (vs. a short fifth, with the tip often overlapping the tip of the fourth in L. griseus larvae). Transitional L. jocu show a similar bar pattern, but the lighter bars are narrower and the bar pattern becomes less distinct.
Juvenile L. apodus have no lateral spot (vs. L. analis, L. mahogoni, L. synagris, and the deep-water snappers). They have prominent vertical bars which are absent or indistinct in L. jocu, L. griseus, and L. cyanopterus. Juvenile L. cyanopterus are also narrower-bodied, have a wider caudal peduncle, and do not share the blue line under the eye.
Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.
Mostly unmarked stage, usually from 10-15 mm SL:
Body: Pretransitional larvae can have a few melanophores on the body just below the dorsal fin base where the future bars will develop: at the mid-spinous dorsal fin, the end of the spinous dorsal fin and under the mid-soft dorsal fin. There is a patch of melanophores along the anterior third of the dorsal midline of the caudal peduncle and a full-length band of melanophores along the ventral midline of the caudal peduncle extending forward and ending just before a single large melanophore underlying the pterygiophores of the last anal-fin rays. A bar pattern begins on the lower caudal peduncle as a patch without melanophores between two bars. There are a few deep melanophores at the very end of the lateral midline of the caudal peduncle.
Head: Melanophores on the head consist of a patch overlying the brain and on the surface braincase and small melanophores around the tips of both the upper and lower jaw (in similar numbers). The opercular area is covered in iridescence extending down to the pelvic-fin insertion. The inner cleithral surface of the gill cavity is speckled with large melanophores and there are internal melanophores lining the dorsal aspect of the peritoneum extending down to the vent and overlain by a silvery camouflage layer.
Fin Spines: The dorsal and anal fin spines are relatively stout, with prominent internal reticulations. There are fine serrations along the anterior aspect of the anal-fin spines at this stage, but disappearing during transition.
Fins: Melanophores on the dorsal-fin membranes are concentrated between the third and eighth dorsal-fin spines, predominantly on the distal half of the fin-ray membranes and typically sparing the membranes adjacent to the base of the fin. Some individuals have melanophores spreading down to meet the dorsal midline, but only behind the fourth and fifth spines and later the ninth and tenth spines (at the site of the future dark bars on the body). On the anal fin, there are melanophores along the base of the spines and membranes, spreading almost half-way up the second and third anal-fin spines. There are melanophores on the lower portion of the membrane between the last anal-fin spine and the first ray and the next membrane or two, followed by melanophores at the base of the membrane for the next few rays. There can be a few melanophores between the bases of the uppermost of the lower segmented caudal-fin rays and also on the lowest two or three segmented rays, often extending out along the rays.
Transitional stage:
Early transitional larvae develop a pattern of bars on the body, beginning at the lower caudal peduncle where two dark bars first separate and then bars progressively develop from the caudal peduncle anteriorly. Each bar starts below the base of the dorsal fin and extends down with development. The mid-body bars begin with three patches of melanophores: the first under the fourth to sixth dorsal-fin spines, the second under the last two dorsal-fin spines and first dorsal soft rays and the third under the middle of the soft dorsal fin. Melanophores are limited to the outer half of the spinous-dorsal-fin membranes at first, but progressively extend down during transition. Before any stripes develop on the head, the tips of the upper and lower jaws are similarly speckled with small melanophores. Even on lightly-marked transitional larvae, there are some small melanophores on the thorax and the pelvic fin membranes. Early transitional larvae have serrations on the anterior aspect of the first two anal fin spines, but these are usually lost midway through transition. Late transitional larvae have melanophores covering much of the body, but now the bars are made up of alternating areas of smaller and larger melanophores. The lower caudal peduncle at this stage has filled-in with melanophores and no longer has bars separated by non-pigmented skin. By this point, melanophores have advanced down the spinous-dorsal-fin membranes and do reach the base where they merge with the melanophores of the darker bars. On the head, a stripe develops between the eye and the tip of the upper jaw and two stripes diverge behind the eye. Small melanophores fill in and uniformly speckle the cheek, operculum, and thorax as well as the pelvic fins. At this stage the fifth dorsal-fin spine is not much shorter than the fourth and the tip of the fifth definitely extends farther posterior than the tip of the fourth.
 
Juvenile L. apodus have
Lutjanus apodus larva
14.1 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-053
 
 
 
Lutjanus apodus early transitional larva
12.6 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-054
 
 
 
 
Lutjanus apodus transitional larva
14.4 mm SL
note mostly-bare dorsal caudal peduncle
San Blas, Panama, SB81-053
Lutjanus apodus late transitional larva
15.8 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
San Blas, Panama, SB81-031
 
 
 
Lutjanus apodus late transitional larva
14.8 mm SL
note similar 2,3,4, and 5th spine
San Blas, Panama, SB81-031
Lutjanus apodus late transitional larva
14.0 mm SL
variant, indistinct bars
San Blas, Panama, SB81-100
  
Wide-bodied L. apodus/jocu variant (DNA ID pending): Wider body, stouter and longer dorsal and anal fin spines, pretransitional spinous-dorsal-fin membranes spotted almost to base. Transitional stages with less distinct bars.
less distinct bars,
Lutjanus sp. larva
14.0 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-112
 
 
 
 
Lutjanus jocu
 
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,14 A-III,8 are shared among most of the regional Lutjanus spp., including L. analis, L. apodus, L. cyanopterus, L. griseus, L. jocu and the deep-water snappers L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus. Juvenile L. jocu have indistinct vertical bars (if any), no lateral spot, a blue line under the eye and are found primarily in mangrove habitats. (DNA)
Analogues:
Transitional recruits of L. jocu have no lateral spot and develop indistinct vertical bars in the same pattern as L. apodus, but with thinner light bars and no clear bars on the caudal peduncle. L. cyanopterus can be distinguished by a wider caudal peduncle (body depth after last dorsal ray goes fewer than 2.5 times into predorsal body depth) and pigment concentrated at the outer third of the pelvic fins vs. full-length in L. jocu. Transitional L. jocu can appear quite similar to transitional L. griseus since they both are mostly uniformly-marked with only indistinct bars. Some transitional L. griseus differ in having a non-speckled area at the base of the caudal fin rays and most transitional recruits lose the indistinct bar pattern rapidly.
Juvenile L. jocu have no lateral spot (vs. L. analis, L. mahogoni, L. synagris, and the deep-water snappers) and indistinct vertical bars (vs. prominent in L. apodus). They are wider-bodied than L. cyanopterus which also lacks the blue line under the eye. Juvenile L. griseus intensify the dark stripe through the eye and develop thin dark stripes on the side of the body, while in juvenile L. jocu the dark stripe through the eye becomes less prominent, the blue line intensifies, and indistinct bars persist.
Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.
Transitional stage:
Transitional recruits of L. jocu have a mostly-uniform scattering of fine melanophores on the body with indistinct bars made of narrow lighter bars against a finely speckled background.
Juveniles:
Juvenile L. jocu develop a thin blue line from the top of the maxilla, under the eye, and across the operculum. Otherwise they have few distinct markings. They often show dark stripes from the eye to the snout and behind the eye and can exhibit a pattern of indistinct vertical bars.
Lutjanus jocu, transitional recruit
16.8 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
bars indistinct, under-eye stripe
Carrie Bow Cay, Belize 1986
Lutjanus jocu, juvenile
22.9 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
indistinct vertical bars
blue under-eye stripe
Isla Grande, Panama, N7529a
 
 
   
 
14-rayed Lutjanus spp.,
other species
 
 
Lutjanus analis
 
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,14 A-III,8 are shared among most of the regional Lutjanus spp., including L. analis, L. apodus, L. cyanopterus, L. griseus, L. jocu and the deep-water snappers L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus. L. analis is the only shallow-water snapper with 14 dorsal-fin spines that has a lateral spot as juveniles and adults. Transitional larvae and recruits have a barred pattern where the bars slant sharply down and to the rear. (DNA)
Analogues:
Pretransitional larvae (mostly-unmarked, usually from 13-17 mm SL) have relatively slender and smooth dorsal and anal-fin spines, without the internal reticulations and anterior serrations found in L. griseus, L. apodus, and L. jocu. In addition, amongst the regional Lutjanus spp. only L. analis and L. cyanopterus often have no melanophores on or around the anal fin before transition. Pretransitional L. analis also share the relatively slender and smooth spines (and snout melanophores) with L. cyanopterus, but have a distinctly-narrower caudal peduncle, melanophores along the full-length of the pelvic-fin membranes or absent (vs. on the outer third of the longest pelvic-fin membranes), and the tip of the second anal-fin spine is near the tip of the third (vs. the tip of the second extending well past the tip of the third in L. cyanopterus).
Transitional L. analis larvae develop distinctive bars of melanophores that slant down sharply to the rear. In contrast, the bars are vertical in transitional L. apodus (also vertical, if present, on L. jocu and L. cyanopterus). Notably, L. analis often do not develop the characteristic lateral spot until past the transitional stage (vs. early spot appearance in the 12-rayed snappers). The latter share the bars and lateral-spot pattern. The bars of transitional L. synagris can also slope somewhat backwards and they share the location of the lateral spot (mostly above the lateral line) with L. analis. Nevertheless the two species can be distinguished by the dorsal soft-fin-ray counts as well as some subtle marking differences: the lateral spot on L. analis, when present, is smaller than that of transitional L. synagris and in the latter the spot notably expands the bar while in transitional L. analis the spot is the same width as the bar from which it forms. Another consistent difference is the angle of the bar anterior to the lateral spot; in L. synagris the bar curves forward just below the dorsal fin and then slants backwards below the level of the spot, while in transitional L. analis the bar slopes evenly down to the rear from the base of the dorsal fin across the body. In addition, the melanophore-speckling on the dorsal-fin membranes is mostly uniform on late-transitional L. analis, while most L. synagris and L. mahogoni at this stage have a dark edging along the mid-dorsal fin. On new recruits the iridescent stripes along the lower side of the body characteristic of L. synagris are absent in L. analis.
Juvenile L. analis have a distinct lateral spot. They can be separated from the other shallow-water species with bars and a lateral spot by the 14 soft dorsal-fin rays (vs. 12 in L. synagris and L. mahogoni).
Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent stout dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.
Pretransitional mostly-unmarked stage, usually from 11-16 mm SL:
Body: A thin line of melanophores develops on each side just below the base of the spinous dorsal fin, from the third to fifth and the sixth to eighth spines (leaving an unpigmented dorsal midline along the base of the fin). The row continues along the base of the soft dorsal fin on the outer pterygiophore segments and the two rows on each side of the body then merge into a band of melanophores lining the dorsal midline of the caudal peduncle. There are a few deep melanophores at the end of the lateral midline of the caudal peduncle. Along the ventral midline of the caudal peduncle there can be only a single melanophore just forward of the first procurrent caudal-fin ray, but it is often followed by several more.
Head: Melanophores on the head consist of a dense patch overlying the brain and on the surface braincase. There are small melanophores at the tip of the upper jaw and a small patch extends upward along the snout. The lower jaw is mostly unmarked, with only a few small melanophores near the tip. The opercular area is covered in iridescence extending down to the pelvic-fin insertion. The inner cleithral surface of the gill cavity is speckled with large melanophores and there are internal melanophores lining the dorsal aspect of the peritoneum extending down to the vent and overlain by a silvery camouflage layer.
Fin Spines: The dorsal and anal-fin spines are relatively slender, without prominent internal reticulations. The second dorsal-fin spine is longer than the third and the subsequent spines are progressively shorter. The anal fin spines do not show anterior serrations. The second anal-fin spine is only slightly longer than the third and the tip usually does not reach farther back than the tip of the third.
Fins: Melanophores are present along most of the length of the membrane just behind the second dorsal-fin spine and then near the outer edges of most of the subsequent membranes of the spinous portion of the dorsal fin. There are melanophores between the bases of the lower central caudal-fin segmented rays and often a few smaller ones between the bases of the lowest upper caudal-fin segmented rays. The anal fins often have no markings but usually develop a row of melanophores near the base of each soft ray. The pelvic fins develop melanophores along the full-length of the first two soft rays and membranes.
Transitional stage:
Early transitional larvae develop bars of fine melanophores on the side of the body that slant sharply rearwards, for example, the spot-bearing bar starts at the ninth dorsal-fin spine and slants down to the first anal-fin ray. At this stage, the lateral spot is just a denser speckling of melanophores that does not expand the bar. Iridescent bars fill in the spaces between the dark bars on the side of the body. The snout melanophores extend up to meet the patch on the top of the head.
Juveniles:
Ju
 
 
Lutjanus analis larva
16.0 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
note snout melanophores
San Blas, Panama, SB83-169
 
 
Lutjanus analis early transitional larva
16.9 mm SL
note incipient lateral spot
San Blas, Panama, SB81-053
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lutjanus cyanopterus
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,14 A-III,8 are shared among most of the regional Lutjanus spp., including L. analis, L. apodus, L. cyanopterus, L. griseus, L. jocu and the deep-water snappers L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus. Juvenile L. cyanopterus have an indistinct barred pattern without a lateral spot. Adult cubera snappers are the largest Western Atlantic snappers and can reach four feet in length and weigh up to 125 pounds. (DNA)
Analogues:
Pretransitional larvae (mostly-unmarked, usually from 15-18 mm SL) have relatively slender and smooth dorsal and anal-fin spines, without the prominent internal reticulations and anterior serrations found in L. griseus, L. apodus, and L. jocu. In addition, amongst the regional Lutjanus spp. only L. cyanopterus and L. analis often have no melanophores on or around the anal fin before transition. Pretransitional L. cyanopterus also share relatively slender and smooth dorsal-fin spines and snout melanophores with L. analis, but have a distinctly-wider caudal peduncle, melanophores on the outer third of the longest pelvic-fin membranes (vs. full-length or none), and the second anal-fin spine is distinctly longer than the third and extends past the tip of the third (vs. matches the tip of the third in L. analis). On larval L. cyanopterus the dorsal fin spines (after the first) are evenly and progressively shorter, unlike some other species. The anterior snout and upper jaw are speckled with melanophores with only a few on the lower jaw (vs. roughly similar on the upper and lower jaw and/or not on the snout as well in other species). L. cyanopterus larvae also have a wider caudal peduncle than other regional Lutjanus spp. (body depth after last dorsal ray goes fewer than 2.5 times into body depth at first dorsal-fin spine).
Juvenile L. cyanopterus have no lateral spot (vs. L. analis, L. mahogoni, L. synagris, and the deep-water snappers) or the prominent eye stripes or blue lines across the cheek characteristic of L. apodus and L. jocu. In addition, the other regional Lutjanus spp. have distinctly wider bodies as both juveniles and adults: the predorsal body depth of L. cyanopterus juveniles goes at least 2.8 times into SL (vs. 2.4 or fewer).
Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent stout dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.
Pretransitional mostly-unmarked stage, usually from 15-18 mm SL:
Body: A thin line of melanophores develops on each side just below the base of the spinous dorsal fin, from the third to sixth and then from the eighth to tenth spines (leaving an unpigmented dorsal midline along the base of the fin). Continuing along the base of the soft dorsal fin, the melanophore row widens to cover the outer pterygiophore segments, intensifying beneath the fourth to eighth and the last two rays and then extending along the dorsal midline of the caudal peduncle, ending at the start of the procurrent caudal-fin rays. Larger pretransitional larvae begin to develop short melanophore streaks lining some of the myomere edges along the mid-upper body. A central patch of surface melanophores develops on the end of the caudal peduncle, then filling in progressively from ventral to dorsal. There are a few deep melanophores at the end of the lateral midline of the caudal peduncle. Along the ventral midline of the caudal peduncle there is a line of melanophores, extending from the first procurrent caudal-fin rays towards the anal fin and ending, after a space, with a melanophore underlying the base of the last anal-fin rays.
Head: Melanophores on the head consist of a dense patch overlying the brain and on the surface braincase with a scattering developing between the braincase and the first dorsal-fin spine. A patch of small melanophores develops at the tip of the upper jaw and then extends upward along the snout. The lower jaw is mostly unmarked, with only a few small melanophores near the tip. The opercular area is covered in iridescence extending down to the pelvic-fin insertion. The inner cleithral surface of the gill cavity is speckled with large melanophores and there are internal melanophores lining the dorsal aspect of the peritoneum extending down to the vent and overlain by a silvery camouflage layer.
Fin Spines: The dorsal and anal fin spines are relatively slender, without prominent internal reticulations. The second dorsal-fin spine is the longest, with the spines becoming progressively and evenly shorter such that the profile of the spinous tips forms a straight downward-sloping line. The anal fin spines do not show anterior serrations. The second anal-fin spine is distinctly longer than the third, with the tip extending farther back than the tip of the third.
Fins: Melanophores on the dorsal-fin membranes are present along the length of the membrane just behind the second dorsal-fin spine and then densely on the outer third of all of the subsequent spinous-dorsal-fin membranes. The soft dorsal fin is unmarked. There are a few melanophores between the bases of the lower central caudal-fin segmented rays. The anal fin is unmarked. The pelvic fins have dense melanophores along the outer third of the fin membranes of the longest two or three rays.
Juveniles:
Juvenile L. cyanopterus have few distinguishing markings, primarily indistinct vertical bars and a dark outer portion of the spinous dorsal fin with abruptly-light edging. The black markings on the outer third of the pelvic-fin membranes shown by larvae can also persist well into the juvenile stage. Dark variants develop a black cap across the eyeball, uniformly-darkened pelvic-fin membranes, and intensified dark bars on the body and black edging to the spinous dorsal fin. Even in the juvenile stage, cubera snappers have markedly-enlarged canine teeth. The body shape of juveniles and adults differs from other regional snappers in being longer and narrower; the body depth (predorsal) of L. cyanopterus juveniles goes at least 2.8 times into SL (vs. 2.4 or fewer).
 
Lutjanus cyanopterus larva
18.8 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
San Blas, Panama, SB81-019
 
 
 
Lutjanus cyanopterus larva
17.7 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
San Blas, Panama, SB81-014
Lutjanus cyanopterus juvenile
25.8 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
note indistinct vertical bars
pigmented outer third of pelvic fin
Isla Grande, Panama, N7529a
 
Lutjanus cyanopterus juvenile
30.2 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
dark variation
note enlarged canines
Isla Grande, Panama, N7527b
 
Lutjanus cyanopterus juvenile
34.0 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
light variation
very indistinct bars
Isla Grande, Panama, N7529a
 
Lutjanus cyanopterus spawning adult
about one meter TL, returned alive
St. Thomas, USVI, 2006
 
Lutjanus buccanella
 
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,14 A-III,8 are shared among most of the regional Lutjanus spp., including L. analis, L. apodus, L. cyanopterus, L. griseus, L. jocu and the deep-water snappers L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus. L. buccanella juveniles have a distinctive yellow saddle mark on the upper caudal peduncle and an indistinct lateral spot. (DNA)
Analogues:
Transitional recruits
Juvenile L. buccanella
Description: Body wide and relatively thick with a sloping forehead and a large round eye (distinctly larger than in the shallow-water congeners) and large terminal mouth. Dorsal-fin base long and anal-fin base short. Prominent dorsal, anal, and pelvic-fin spines and a large non-serrated preopercular spine.
Transitional stage:
Transitional recruits show only a speckling of fine surface melanophores in addition to the residual larval melanophore complement. The lateral spot is made up of fine melanophores in a wide ellipse centered on the lateral line under the soft dorsal fin. The body becomes covered in fine leukophores. Lateral and ventral iridescence is prominent and includes a stripe from the mid-upper jaw around the lower eye socket and then widening to cover the preopercle. In life, a distinctive yellow saddle-patch develops on the dorsal caudal peduncle.
Juveniles:
Juvenile L. buccanella
Lutjanus buccanella transitional recruit
24.5 mm SL, DNA confirmed ID
note indistinct lateral spot at lateral line
San Blas, Panama, SB82-005
 
 
 
Lutjanus vivanus
 
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,14 A-III,8 are shared among most of the regional Lutjanus spp., including L. analis, L. apodus, L. cyanopterus, L. griseus, L. jocu and the deep-water snappers L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus.
 
 
 
Lutjanus campechanus
Diagnosis: Modal fin-ray counts of D-X,14 A-III,8 are shared among most of the regional Lutjanus spp., including L. analis, L. apodus, L. cyanopterus, L. griseus, L. jocu and the deep-water snappers L. buccanella, L. campechanus and L. vivanus. L. campechanus from the Gulf of Mexico have nine anal-fin soft rays.
 
 
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Useful and Informative Fish Links    
   
An excellent and complete ichthyological fish glossary dictionary  
The Australian Museum Larval Fishes website: the center of fish larvae knowledge for the Indo-Pac  
Southeast Fisheries Science Center- larval fish drawings from prior symposiums (and many of those in Richards, 2005)    
The National Museum of Natural History Larval Fish site: some live larval fish    
STRI- the Smithsonian Research Institute in Panama: a big chunk of the New World's reef research    
Gobiidae.com: everything you ever wanted to know about gobies, plus European gobies and research    
Love Lab at UCSB: not tropical, but a must-see fish site    
Reef Protection International: grass-roots organization for a conservation-minded aquarium trade    
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center- a great search capability for larvae of temperate taxa, but the water is cold    
The ZipcodeZoo: a noble effort to catalogue all animals and plants on earth    

The Big Fish Bang: Proceedings of the 26th Annual Larval Fish Conference