Bonefish Family Photos and Information – Albulidae

The Bonefish Family – Albulidae

Cortez Bonefish, Albula gilberti, a representative member of the Bonefish or Albulidae Family.

The fish of the Bonefish or Albulidae Family are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as macabíes and in the greater Los Cabos area as chilies (as they resemble the corresponding vegetable in size and shape). There are a total of nine global family members in two genera of which one species is found in Mexican waters of the Atlantic and three species in one genus are found in Mexican waters of the Pacific. However, two (the Cortez Bonefish and the Pacific Bonefish) of these three Pacific species can only be differentiated by mitochondrial DNA gene sequences (cytochrome b) as no diagnostic external morphological characteristics have been found to differentiate the two.

The Bonefish are of keen scientific interest because like tarpons, ladyfish, and true eels, they are primitive and thus linked to the evolution of fishes. They are small to medium-sized fish that are up to 80 cm (31 inches) in length with slender, silvery, and slightly compressed bodies. They are bottom dwelling schooling fish that are found in coastal waters worldwide. They have a conical head with a small inferior mouth that does not reach past their eyes, pointed overhanging snouts, and sloping foreheads. Bonefish have anal fins that are set under the rear of their dorsal fins; deeply forked caudal fins; one short dorsal fin located mid-body; pectoral fins that are low on the body; short pelvic fins that are low on the body and well behind the pectoral fins; and a straight lateral line that runs the entire length of the body. Their fins are without spines. They have the ability to breathe air in water with low oxygen by using a modified swim bladder. They are covered with modest-sized smooth scales. The Bonefish get their name from the numerous fine bones found in their flesh.

The Bonefish are found in intertidal flats, mangrove areas, river mouths, and deeper adjacent waters. They move in schools into shallow waters at high tide and root in these waters in groups of up to 100 individuals, their conical snouts seeking small clams, crustaceans, and worms. They retreat at low tide. They are in turn preyed upon by barracuda and sharks. Bonefish are alert and wary; whole schools can be easily spooked, making them difficult, at times, for fishermen to catch. They are built for speed and utilize fleeing as their primary defense mechanism against their large predators.

The Bonefish found in Mexican waters reach a maximum length of 77 cm (30 inches) and 14 pounds in weight. Their lifespan is approximately nineteen years. They are found in Mexican waters of the Atlantic from the Yucatan Peninsula south along the coast to Guatemala and in all waters of the Pacific.

Albula Sp., Larval (1)

Bonefish Larvae. Provided by a Bighead Sand Perch, Diplectrum euryplectrum, caught from 300-foot water off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, January 2015. Length: 6.7 cm (2.6 inches). Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA. Interestingly, these larvae are actually about two times longer than the juveniles they become.

THE Bonefish, Albula vulpes, found exclusively in the Caribbean, are a world-renowned hard-fighting game fish and a major target of fly-fishermen. They are heavily regulated with size and bag limits but their populations continue to decrease. The Bonefishes are deemed to be a poor food fish, known to contain Cigua Toxin, and are normally a “catch and release.”

Four Bonefish, one from the Atlantic and three from the Pacific, are included in this website.

Bonefish, Albula vulpes
Cortez Bonefish, Albula gilberti

Eastern Pacific Bonefish, Albula esuncula 
Pacific Shafted Bonefish, Albula pacifica