Sharksucker

Sharksucker, Echeneis naucrates

The Sharksucker, Echeneis naucrates, whose common Spanish name is rémora rayada, is a species in the Remora or Echeneidae Family, known collectively as remoras and pega pega in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Live Sharksucker and the Slender Sharksucker. Globally, there are only two species in the genus Echeneis, both of which are found in Mexican waters, including the fish described here found in the Atlantic and the Pacific and another fish found in the Atlantic.

The Sharksuckers have elongated slim bodies that are 11 to 12 times longer than they are deep. They are dark gray to dark brown with a dark belly. They have a broad dark brown stripe with white edges on each side that extends from their jaw to the base of their caudal fin. Their anal and dorsal fins are dark with white margins. Their caudal fin is black with distinct white corners. Their pectoral and pelvic fins are black with or without white margins. Their lower jaw is prognathic, projecting well beyond the upper jaw. Their anal fin has 29 to 41 rays and their dorsal fin has 32 to 42 rays; both fins originate mid-body and have elevated initial rays that taper to the base of the caudal fin. Their caudal fin is truncate with the upper and lower lobes being longer than the middle rays. Their pectoral fins are located high on the sides with the upper margins overlapping the edge of the disc. Males cannot easily be differentiated from females. Their head has a convex lower profile and a flat upper profile with mid-sized black eyes. They have a modest-sized disc that is 23% to 28% of standard length, has 16 to 28 lamellae, and reaches the middle of the pectoral fin. Their mouth is equipped with vomer and villiform teeth.

The Sharksuckers are a circumtropical species found in all global tropical and warm waters at depths up to 150 feet. They reach a maximum length of 1.10 meters (3 feet 7 inches) and weight of 5.4 kg (11.9 pounds). They are the most abundant remora. When free swimming, they are found inshore in schools around coral reefs and offshore attached to dolphins, fish, rays, sharks, sea turtles, whales, and sometimes ships or human divers. They are poor swimmers without a swim bladder and are dependent on their hosts for survival. They are opportunistic feeders consuming parasitic crustaceans off their hosts and leftovers from their hosts’ dining. When free swimming they consume crustaceans, fish, and squid. Juveniles act as cleaner fish for larger Parrotfish. Reproduction is oviparous with external fertilization and the release of large spherical pelagic eggs enclosed in a hard case. Juvenile Sharksuckers live freely for the first year until they reach 3.0 cm (1.2 inches) in length and then attach themselves to a host.

In Mexican waters the Sharksuckers are found in all waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific with the exception of the Sea of Cortez.

The Sharksucker is easy to identify due to the stripes along its flank. It is somewhat similar to the Whitefin Sharksucker, Echeneis neucratoides from the Atlantic (caudal fin with much wider white fin margins).

The Sharksuckers are a small component of the aquarium trade. They are also targeted by recreational fishermen. In some Southeast Asian cultures they are used by artisanal fishermen to catch large fish and sea turtles: this is done by affixing a line around the Sharksucker’s tail, allowing it to attach to a host, then hauling both species in. They are also caught with drift nets and trawls. They are used for human consumption on a limited basis and can be found in Southeast Asian fish markets. From a conservation perspective, they are considered of Least Concern being abundant in some parts of their range and having widely distributed and stable populations.

Sharksucker, Echeneis naucrates. Photo of a live fish being sold by the aquarium trade in Orange County, California, March 2017. Length: 18.0 cm (7.1 inches). “Catch”, photo, and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.