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What is an American Sole?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee

The American sole is a type of flatfish native to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, off the southeast coast of North America. This type of flatfish has little value to the commercial fishing industry, though it is edible and said to be tasty. American sole flatfish are sometimes kept as pets by aquarium hobbyists.

The American sole belongs to the family Achiridae, which includes at least nine genera. Twenty-eight distinct species of this fish can be found inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean. Some species live in freshwater, while others prefer brackish water. Most American soles, however, inhabit saltwater.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

These fish were formerly classified as Soleidae, the family that includes most species of flounder, but they were later reclassified when scientists realized that these flatfish don't possess all of the defining characteristics of the flounder. The American sole, unlike most species of flounder, lacks pectoral fins. The pelvic and tail fins of the American sole are generally fused together. Most scientists believe that American sole species have, in fact, a lineage distinct from that of members of the family Soleidae.

These western Atlantic flatfish are considered right-handed flatfish because they have both eyes located on the right side of their bodies. Immature American soles have eyes on either side of their bodies and swim upright, as most non-flatfish do. As these fish mature, the left eye moves to the right side of the body and the body itself flattens out, so that the fish begins to swim with the left side of its body downward, in the fashion of a typical flatfish.

These fish, like other soles, have spineless fins. The dorsal fin typically extends along the fish's entire body, from the tip of the head to the fused pectoral fin. The right side of the fish, where the eyes are located, may be olive green or brownish in color. These fish often have blotchy or irregular brown markings on an otherwise green body, and some species can control color changes in order to camouflage themselves. Narrow, vertical bands typically cross the right side of the American sole's body, while the left or underside is often white or pale in color.

American sole are not fished commercially, though many people consider them good to eat. They typically feed on small aquatic creatures, including worms, shrimp, and small fish. They can usually be kept as pets, if nourished on a live diet similar to that eaten by American soles in the wild.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy