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What is a Yellowtail Snapper?

J.L. Drede
J.L. Drede

The yellowtail snapper is a fish of the Lutjanidae family with the scientific name Ocyurus chrysurus. It is a saltwater fish and is found in the Atlantic Ocean, most frequently in the areas surrounding the Bahamas and south Florida. It is a popular commercial and sport fish.

The yellowtail snapper is a medium-sized fish and can reach lengths of 30 inches (75 cm) and weigh as much as 5 pounds (2.2 kg). Its most notable physical feature is the one that it gets its name from; its bright yellow tail that serves as a stark contrast to its light blue/olive color. Further making the fish stand out is that the coloration of the tail extends as a stripe from the back fin all the way to its mouth. Yellow spots accompany the stripe on the top half of the body and a bright yellow dorsal fin accentuates the color contrast further.


The fish spends most of its time in mid-range depths between 32 and 320 feet (10 to 70 meters) and is usually seen in schools. Like many other fish, the yellowtail snapper feeds at night and its prey includes crabs, shrimp, small fish and worms. Juveniles primarily survive on a diet of seagrass and plankton. Natural predators of the fish include most large predatory fish, including the mackerel, grouper, sharks and barracudas. Assuming it is not snapped up by one of the large predators that feed on it, the yellowtail snapper can survive up to 14 years in the wild.

Because of its striking coloration, the yellowtail snapper is occasionally seen as an aquarium fish. However, it requires a very large aquarium and cannot have any tank mates as it will try to eat them. It is commonly fished both in a commercial and sport capacity and it is often sold both as a fresh and frozen fish. Its popularity as a food fish has led to some breeding and farming in captivity to meet demand.

While the fish is harmless and consumption of yellowtail snapper is incredibly common there have been occasional reports that eating the fish can lead to ciguatera poisoning. Ciguatera is a toxin that is usually found in algae and the fish that eat that algae. The snapper eats those fish, and consumes the toxin they have in their system. Usually the amount of ciguatera toxin in a snapper is minute and entirely harmless to humans but on rare occasion it can cause illness. Ciguatera poisoning typically causes gastrointestinal problems and a general weakness in their body for several days. It is not life-threatening.

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