Tomtate, Haemulon aurolinaeatum

The Tomtate, Haemulon aurolineatum, whose common Spanish name is ronco jeníguaro, is a species in the Grunt or Haemulidae Family, which are known collectively as burros in Mexico.  Globally, there are twenty-one one species in the genus Haemulon, and all twenty-one are found in Mexican waters, fourteen in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific.

The Tomtates have longer and thinner bodies than most Grunts. They are one of the smallest Grunts and have a depth that is 33 to 37% of standard length. They have an overall silver-white appearance and a horizontal yellow-brown stripe along the length of their body, which ends in a dark circle at the base of their tail. There is a second narrow stripe on their sides above the lateral line. The inside of their mouth is red and their anal and pelvic fins are yellowish. Their mouth is small and opens at a level below and ends before the eye. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 9 rays and their dorsal fin has 12 to 14 spines and 14 to 15 rays. They have 24 to 28 gill rakers.

The Tomtates are found inshore around coral and rocky reefs at depths up to 100 feet. They reach a maximum length of 25 cm (10 inches). They are bottom feeders that forage for amphipods, crabs, shrimp, snails, and worms as well as algae and plankton. In turn they are preyed upon by a wide variety of groupers, mackerel, and snappers. They are a schooling species and fairly tolerant of colder water common around offshore reefs and near platforms. They have live spans of up to nine years.

The Tomatate is the widest ranging member of the Grunt Family and is found in the Western Atlantic along the coast of the United States, throughout the Caribbean, and south to Brazil. In Mexican waters the Tomtates are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Tomtate is similar to, and can easily be confused with, the juvenile Bluestripe Grunt, Haemulon sciurus, the French Grunt, Haemulon flavolineatum, and the White Grunt, Haemulon plumieri, all of which lose their tail spots with maturity.

The Tomtates are caught by recreational anglers with light tackle on pieces of shrimp, cut fish, and squid. Although small in stature they are considered a good pan fish. They are approachable and often seen by divers; they also provide a warning sign when larger fish approach as they scatter. They are targets of larger fish, making them an excellent live bait fish.

Tomtate, Haemulon aurolinaeatum. Fish caught out from coastal waters off  Sugarloaf Key, Florida, August 2014. Length: 14.0 cm (5.5 inches). Photo courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.