Atlantic Tripletail, Lobotes surinamensis
The Atlantic Tripletail, Lobotes surinamensis, whose common Spanish name is dormilona del Atlántico, is a member of the Tripletail or Lobotidae Family, known collectively as dormilonas in Mexico. Globally, there are two species in the genus Lobotes, both found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Atlantic Tripletails have ovate to oblong shaped compressed bodies. They have mottled color patterns that vary from dark brown to greenish-yellow dorsally and transition to silvery-gray ventrally. Their pectoral fins are pale yellow and all their other fins are dusky. Juveniles are mottled with yellow, brown, and black; their pectoral fins are white and their caudal fin has a white margin. Their head is triangular with a pointed snout, a slightly projecting top jaw, small eyes, and a mid-sized oblique mouth that extends to the front margin of the eyes. Their mouth has two sets of teeth: a row of outer canines and an inner band of small teeth. With age, their forehead becomes more concave. Their anal and second dorsal fins are large and match the rounded caudal fin giving them their “tripletail” common name. Their anal fin has three spines and 11 rays; their dorsal fin is continuous with 12 spines and 15 or 16 rays; and their pectoral fins are shorter than their pelvic fins. Their gill cover is strongly serrated. They have 19 to 22 gill rakers and are covered with rough scales.
The Atlantic Tripletails are a coastal tropical pelagic species. They are normally solitary but can be found in large aggregates in bays, brackish waters, and well out at sea collecting under floating debris, shipwrecks, sea buoys, and piling of jetties at depths up to 150 feet. They reach a maximum length of 1.10 meters (3 feet 7 inches) and weight of 19.2 kg (42 pounds). They display the unusual behavior of floating just beneath the surface with one side exposed mimicking a leaf or floating debris as part of a mechanism to ambush prey. They consume small fish and invertebrates including crabs and shrimp and other benthic crustaceans. In turn they are preyed upon by sharks and larger teleost fish. They are known to migrate to warmer waters during cold water episodes.
The Atlantic Tripletails are found in all Mexican waters of the Atlantic on a seasonal basis.
The Atlantic Tripletail is similar to, and can be confused with, the Mutton Hamlet, Alphestes afer (dorsal fin has 11 spines and 17 to 19 rays). They are also virtually identical to the Pacific Tripletail, Lobotes pacificus (found only in the Pacific Ocean).
The Atlantic Tripletails are fished commercially on a limited basis and caught with seines, gill nets, and hook and line. They are also caught as a by-catch in tuna drift nets. They are marketed fresh, frozen, or salted. They are an infrequent catch of recreational fishermen but their popularity has been increasing due to their high quality meat. The Gulf states of the southeast United States have recently established bag and length limits for this species. From a conservation perspective they are currently considered of Least Concern, however, their catch levels and populations are poorly monitored.
Atlantic Tripletail, Lobotes surinamensis. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, July 2015. Length: 42 cm (17 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.