Schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus
The Schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus, whose common Spanish name is pargo canchix, is a member of the Snapper or Lutjanidae Family, known collectively as pargos in Mexico. They received their common name by being a schooling species forming aggregates of several dozen individuals. Globally, there are sixty-seven species in the genus Lutjanus, nineteen of which are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and nine in the Pacific.
The Schoolmasters are colorful subtropical fish with robust slightly compressed bodies. They vary in color from olive gray to brownish on their upper back and upper sides transitioning to yellowish-red around their head and are lighter ventrally. They have yellow fins. They have eight narrow light vertical bars on their sides which are more prominent in juvenile fish. Their head is large and pointed with a distinctive blue horizontal streak below the eyes which is less prominent with age and quickly fades after collection. One of their upper pairs of canine teeth is larger than their back teeth and is visible when their mouth is closed. They have a pointed snout with blue stripes and a large mouth. Their anal fin is rounded with eight rays; their caudal fin is large and straight; their dorsal fin is continuous with 10 spines and 14 rays; and their pectoral fins are long.
The Schoolmasters are found in shallow waters over coastal coral reefs and close to the bottom at depths up to 200 feet. They reach a maximum of 61 cm (24 inches) in length and 3.6 kg (8 pounds) in weight but are normally in the 30 cm (12 inches) to 35 cm (14 inches) range. They are nocturnal predators foraging in seagrass beds on crabs, mollusks, octopus, shrimp, and small fish and they take shelter during daylight. They are gonochorists with both males and females releasing gametes at the same time. The fertilized eggs settle to the bottom and are left unguarded.
In Mexican waters the Schoolmasters are found in all waters of the Atlantic.
The Schoolmaster is most likely confused with juvenile Dog Snappers, Lutjanus jocu (white cone-shaped patch on gill cover).
The Schoolmasters are a popular target of both commercial and recreational anglers utilizing light spinning and bait casting tackle with live shrimp or cut squid as bait. Significantly larger fish are taken in deeper waters. They are heavily regulated in most coastal states in the southeast United States. They are considered an excellent food fish and are sold commercially.
Schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus, juvenile. Fish caught from a tidal pool in coastal waters off Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, February 2016. Length: 10.2 cm (4.0 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key Largo, Florida, December 2013. Length: 13.1 cm (5.2 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.