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The Atlantic croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, is a medium-sized fish that is common in the tidal waters of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico, with large populations located near the Mississippi River Delta and throughout the Chesapeake Bay. It is a member of the Sciaenidae family of fish, also known as the drum family, and is closely related to spot, red drum, and weakfish. A can be identified by the dramatic notch on the dorsal fin and the irregular green stripes located on its back. Fully grown croakers are typically 18 to 24 inches (about 45.7 to 60.9 cm) in length and have a bright, silvery belly. This fish will also begin to turn slightly pink once it has been out of the water for a short period of time.
This type of fish is best known for its loud guttural sounds that are similar to a bullfrog's croak, which croakers create when they are removed from the water. A croaker produces its croak by using a set of customized muscles that vibrate its swim bladder. While all members of the Sciaenidae family are capable of producing some form of croaking or drumming sound, the croak of the Atlantic croaker is by far the loudest. Both male and female croakers are able to create this sound. Adult male croakers use their croak to attract females, and all croakers produce a similar croak when they are faced with danger.
Croakers spend the majority of their life near the bottom of the water and are most often found in sandy areas. Young croakers feed on plankton and other small vegetation. Once a fish has reached maturity, its primary sources of food include mollusks, worms, and small fish. Croakers are often a popular source of chum or bait for fishermen who are in search of sport fish, such as bluefish, sharks, and striped bass.
Generally, croakers spawn between September and November, depending on the regional temperature, by migrating offshore and returning to their usual habitat after the winter. A young croaker takes two years to reach maturity and spends the majority of that time living closer inland in estuaries that have fresher water. Once the fish has reached maturity, it favors coastal waters with a lower concentration of salt than the open ocean. The average lifespan of a croaker is roughly seven years.
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