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What is a Tarpon?

April S. Kenyon
April S. Kenyon

Tarpon is a fish, and a member of the Elopidae family. Magalop is the scientific name for this fish. These prehistoric fish are also known as tarpum, cuffum, silverfish, sabalo real, and silver king. There are two varieties of megalop: Megalops atlanticus and Megalops atlanticutarpus. Fossil research provides evidence that the tarpon has been swimming in the oceans of the world for centuries.

While very small at birth, a full grown tarpon can be anywhere from 5 to 8 feet (approximately 1.52 to 2.44 meters) in length, and weigh as much as 280 lbs. (approximately 127 kilograms). Tarpons are characterized by silver scales that cover the entire fish except for the head, distinct lateral lines along the body, and a bluish green color on the back. These enormous fish have a broad mouth and a protruding jaw. The large eyes are covered by a thick transparent skin referred to as adipose eyelids. The life expectancy of tarpons is approximately 55 to 60 years.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

Megalops atlanticus can be found swimming along the western and eastern coasts of the Atlantic, in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. The other species, Megalops cyprinoides, are found along the coasts of eastern Africa and southeast Asia. This species may also be found in areas of Australia, Japan, and Tahiti. Both types can be discovered in either fresh or saltwater habitats. These hardy fish can survive a variety of conditions, including varying levels of pH, and waters with low oxygen content.

The unique air bladder of the tarpon allows it to gulp air at the surface and absorb the oxygen in order to survive in waters with low oxygen content. Tarpon are the only fish with this type of swim bladder. This unique feature is believed to be the primary way it breathes. If the fish cannot access the water’s surface to take in oxygen, it will die.

Tarpons are a bony fish that are not generally desirable as a meat source. They are, however, deemed by many to be a great game fish. Fishermen often consider the enormous size, strength, and general reputation of the fish to be a great prize. Many game fishermen fish for tarpon on a catch and release basis, meaning that the fish is generally returned to the waters after it has been caught. Some individuals, however, may select to have a tarpon stuffed and mounted to display as a trophy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a tarpon and where can it be found?

A tarpon is a large, migratory fish known for its silver scales and impressive leaping ability. It inhabits warm coastal waters, estuaries, lagoons, and rivers. Tarpons are primarily found in the Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. They are also present in the eastern Atlantic, from Senegal to Angola.

How big can tarpons grow, and what do they eat?

Tarpons can grow to remarkable sizes, with some reaching up to 8 feet in length and weighing over 280 pounds. Their diet mainly consists of smaller fish and crustaceans. They use their upturned mouths to feed primarily at the surface and are known for their voracious appetites, which help sustain their large size.

Are tarpons good for sport fishing, and can they be eaten?

Tarpons are highly prized by sport fishermen for their fighting spirit and spectacular aerial displays when hooked. However, they are not commonly eaten due to their bony flesh. Catch-and-release practices are encouraged to preserve tarpon populations, as they are considered a game fish rather than a food source.

What unique features do tarpons have that aid in their survival?

Tarpons possess a unique swim bladder that functions as a respiratory pseudo-lung, allowing them to breathe atmospheric air and survive in oxygen-poor waters. This adaptation is particularly useful in stagnant or swampy environments. Additionally, their large, shiny scales act as armor, providing protection from predators.

How do tarpons reproduce, and what is their lifespan?

Tarpons reproduce by spawning, where females release eggs into the water to be fertilized by males. This usually occurs in the open ocean, and the larvae then migrate to inshore waters. Tarpons have a long lifespan, with some individuals living up to 50 years or more, contributing to their late maturity.

What conservation status do tarpons have, and are they threatened?

Tarpons are not currently listed as endangered, but they face threats from habitat loss and degradation, particularly in coastal areas. Overfishing and bycatch also pose risks to their populations. Conservation efforts focus on sustainable fishing practices and habitat protection to ensure their numbers remain stable.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy