Ballyhoo, Hemiramphus brasiliensis

The Ballyhoo, Hemiramphus brasiliensis, whose Spanish common name is agujeta brasileña, is a member of the Halfbeak or Hemiramphidae Family, known collectively as pajaritos in Mexico. Globally, there are ten species in the genus Hemiramphus, three of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Ballyhoos have elongated cylindrical bodies. They are dark bluish-black dorsally and silvery ventrally. All their fins are dark with the exception of the top lobe of their caudal fin, which is yellowish-red and a key to identification. Their beak has a red tip. Their lower jaw extends into a long beak and their upper jaw is short and triangular. Their anal fin is at the rear of the body; it mirrors the dorsal fin and has 12 to 14 rays. Their caudal fin is deeply forked with a much larger lower lobe. Their dorsal fin has 12 to 15 rays. Their pectoral fins are short and high on the sides and do not reach the nasal opening when folded forward. Their pelvic fins are located on the abdomen at the rear. They have 28 to 36 gill rakers. Their lateral line is low on the body. They are covered with large smooth scales.

The Ballyhoos are a pelagic species and are also found in coastal waters over sandy bottoms at depths up to 20 feet. They reach a maximum length of 41 cm (16 inches). They are normally found in large schools mixed in with the Balao Halfbeak, Hemiramphus balao and are known to make short-range seasonal migrations. They feed on seagrasses, planktonic organisms, and copepods. In turn they are preyed upon by birds, dolphins, dolphinfish, marlins, porpoises, squid, and tuna. Reproduction is oviparous with females releasing approximately 1,200 large eggs annually that contain a sticky substance and allows the eggs to attach to floating debris. They have a lifespan of up to four years. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

The Ballyhoos are found in all Mexican waters of the Atlantic.

The Ballyhoo is most likely confused with the Balao Halfbeak, Hemiramphus balao (black top caudal fin lobe; pectoral fins reaching nasal pit).

The Ballyhoos are a very important live bait caught in large quantities via lampara nets off the southern Florida coasts including the Keys. They are unfriendly to divers and quickly flee. From a conservation perspective they are currently considered of Least Concern, as they are common and have a wide distribution and stable populations.

f700-ballyhoo-1Ballyhoo, Hemiramphus brasiliensis. Fish caught in coastal waters off Key Largo, Florida, December 2014. Length: 25 cm (10 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.