Orangeback bass Serranus annularis, copyright Pauline Walsh Jacobson.

Belongs within: Serraniformes.

Sea bass, mutant or otherwise
Published 30 August 2015

…though to the best of my knowledge, none of them have fricking lasers on their heads.

Painted comber Serranus scriba, copyright Roberto Pillon.

The Serranidae are a group of marine fish that go by vernacular names such as sea bass, rock bass or rock cod. They are carnivores, and are found mostly around reefs in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. In appearance, they are fairly generalised (these are fish that look like fish) with a body shape that is longer than high, but not too long, and relatively big jaws with the lower jaw often jutting forward a bit beyond the upper. Some of them are quite colourful (as befits a tropical reef fish) and some of the smaller ones turn up in marine aquaria as a result. As used in the past, the Serranidae has been quite a broad grouping of fish united by having three spines on the margin of the opercle (the gill cover) and the maxilla in the upper jaw not hidden by the cheekbone when the mouth is closed. Members of this broad Serranidae were commonly divided between three subfamilies: the Serraninae (including the sea basses), Epinephelinae (including the groupers) and Anthiinae (basslets and goldies), though some authors further subdivided the Epinephelinae. However, recent molecular studies have indicated the polyphyly of this grouping, with the Serraninae and Epinephelinae occupying distinct positions within the clade known as the Serraniformes or Perciformes sensu stricto, and so have cut the latter out of the Serranidae. As for the Anthiinae, their position remains uncertain, with some analyses placing them with the Serraninae and others with the Epinephelinae (Lautredou et al. 2013). As a result, a monophyletic Serranidae is probably to be restricted to the old ‘Serraninae’.

Shy hamlet Hypoplectrus guttavarius, copyright Florent Charpin.

There are over eighty species listed for this restricted Serranidae on FishBase, but new ones continue to be described. As is common among reef fishes, it can be hard to determine exactly what counts as a species (whatever your preferred definition). A prime example of this is the genus Hypoplectrus, small serranids known as hamlets (no, I don’t know why either) found in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Hamlets come in a range of different colours and patterns, but structurally speaking the various forms are otherwise indistinguishable. As a result, some authors have regarded them as all colour morphs of a single species. Others have recognised close to twenty different species. Domeier (1994), conducting field observations on hamlets together with breeding experiments in the laboratory, found that different colour morphs would usually only mate with partners sharing their own colour pattern, though hybrid matings could be produced if no more suitable mate was provided. These hybrid matings produced offspring bearing intermediate colour patterns, and the rarity of such intermediates in the field led Domeier to infer that the different morphs were mostly acting as good species.

Kelp bass Paralabrax clathratus, photographed by Steve Lonhart.

Most sea basses are simultaneous hermaphrodites: they have both male and female reproductive organs functional at the same time. Though they are capable of fertilising their own eggs, they still usually breed in pairs with each individual alternating the release of male and female gametes. Not all serranids follow this reproductive template: members of the genera Chelidoperca and Centropristis are protogynous, starting their mature lives as females before switching over to males. Two species of Serranus, the lantern bass Serranus baldwini and the barred serrano S. psittacinus, are mostly simultaneous hermaphrodites like other species in the genus, but the largest individuals resorb their female organs and become exclusively males. Finally, many species of the genus Paralabrax have entirely separate males and females. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that protogyny may be the original mode of sexual development in the serranids, with separate sublineages developing simultaneous hermaphroditism vs separate sexes (Erisman & Hastings 2011). In correlation with this, individuals of Paralabrax that are functionally single-sexed have been found to retain non-functional remnants of the other sex’s organs.

Systematics of Serranidae
<==Serranidae [Serraninae, Serranoidei]
    |    |--C. ocyurusC73
    |    `--C. striata (Linnaeus 1758)K-M02
       |    |--S. accraensis (Norman 1931)LD09
       |    |--S. annularisSC62
       |    |--S. atricaudaLM13
       |    |--S. cabrillaLM13
       |    |--S. cyanostigmatoides [=Epinephelus cyanostigmatoides]P89
       |    |--S. gigasPP89
       |    |--S. hepatusD56
       |    |--S. novemcinctusL95
       |    |--S. scribaD56
       |    |--S. subligariusB96
       |    |--S. tigrinusSC07
       |    |--S. tortugarumSC62
       |    `--S. ventralis Agassiz 1839 [incl. S. rugosus Heckel 1853]B80
       `--+--Cratinus agassiziiSC07
          `--+--+--Zalanthias kelloggi [=Plectranthias kelloggi; incl. Z. azumanus]SC07
             |  `--ParalabraxSC07
             |       |--P. clathratusM83
             |       |--P. maculatofasciatusSC07
             |       `--P. nebuliferB78
                |    |--D. arcuatum [incl. D. bivittatum]MK83
                |    |--D. formosumSC07
                |    `--D. radialeF16
                     |--H. indigoSC07
                     |--H. puellaND13
                     `--H. unicolorSC07
                          |--H. u. unicolorF16
                          `--H. u. chlorurusF16
Serranidae incertae sedis:
  Chorististium Gill 1862SC62
    |--*C. rubre (Poey 1861) [=Liopropoma rubre]SC62
    |--C. eukrines Starck & Courtenay 1962SC62
    `--C. mowbrayi (Woods & Kanazawa 1951) [=Liopropoma mowbrayi]SC62
  Pikea Steindachner 1875SC62
    `--*P. lunulata (Guichenot 1863) [=Grystes lunulatus]SC62
    |--C. hirudinaceaBCP11
    `--C. margaritifera Weber 1913LM13, M58
  Tretoperca vestita Sytchevskaya 1986P93
  Serranidarum serranoides (Stinton 1965)P93
  Chromileptes altivelis (Valenciennes 1828)H90
  Ellerkeldia rubra Allen 1976H90
  Epinephelides armatus (Castelnau 1875)H90
  Aethaloperca rogaa (Forsskål 1775)MM14 [=Perca rogaaM58, Cephalopholis rogaaM58]

*Type species of generic name indicated


[BCP11] Bannikov, A. F., G. Carnevale & N. V. Parin. 2011. The new family Caucasichthyidae (Pisces, Perciformes) from the Eocene of the North Caucasus. Paleontologicheskii Zhurnal 2011 (1): 75–81 (translated: Paleontological Journal 45 (1): 83–89).

[B80] Blot, J. 1980. La faune ichthyologique des gisements du Monte Bolca (Province de Vérone, Italie). Catalogue systématique présentant l’état actuel des recherches concernant cette faune. Bulletin du Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle C 2: 339–396.

[B96] Bond, C. E. 1996. Biology of Fishes 2nd ed. Saunders College Publishing: Fort Worth.

[B78] Brusca, R. C. 1978. Studies on the cymothoid fish symbionts of the eastern Pacific (Crustacea: Isopoda: Cymothoidae) II. Systematics and biology of Lironeca vulgaris Stimpson 1857. Occasional Papers of the Allan Hancock Foundation New Series 2: 1–19.

[C73] Camp, D. K. 1973. Stomatopod Crustacea. Memoirs of the Hourglass Cruises 3 (2): 1–100.

[D56] Dawes, B. 1956. The Trematoda with special reference to British and other European forms. University Press: Cambridge.

Domeier, M. L. 1994. Speciation in the serranid fish Hypoplectrus. Bulletin of Marine Science 54 (1): 103–141.

Erisman, B. E., & P. A. Hastings. 2011. Evolutionary transitions in the sexual patterns of fishes: insights from a phylogenetic analysis of the seabasses (Teleostei: Serranidae). Copeia 2011 (3): 357–364.

[F16] Fowler, H. W. 1916. The fishes of Trinidad, Grenada, and St. Lucia, British West Indies. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 67 (3): 520–548.

[H90] Hutchins, J. B. 1990. Fish survey of South Passage, Shark Bay, Western Australia. In: Berry, P. F., S. D. Bradshaw & B. R. Wilson (eds) Research in Shark Bay: Report of the France-Australe Bicentenary Expedition Committee pp. 263–278. Western Australian Museum.

[K-M02] Klein-MacPhee, G. 2002. Sea basses. Family Serranidae. In: Collette, B. B., & G. Klein-MacPhee (eds) Bigelow and Schroeder’s Fishes of the Gulf of Maine 3rd ed. pp. 391–395. Smithsonian Institute Press: Washington.

[L95] Laubitz, D. R. 1995. Caprellidea (Crustacea: Amphipoda) from the southern and western Indian Ocean. Mésogée 54: 81–100.

[LM13] Lautredou, A.-C., H. Motomura, C. Gallut, C. Ozouf-Costaz, C. Cruaud, G. Lecointre & A. Dettai. 2013. New nuclear markers and exploration of the relationships among Serraniformes (Acanthomorpha, Teleostei): the importance of working at multiple scales. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 67: 140–155.

[LD09] Li, B., A. Dettaï, C. Cruaud, A. Couloux, M. Desoutter-Meniger & G. Lecointre. 2009. RNF213, a new nuclear marker for acanthomorph phylogeny. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 50: 345–363.

[MK83] Menzies, R. J., & W. L. Kruczynski. 1983. Isopod Crustacea (exclusive of Epicaridea). Memoirs of the Hourglass Cruises 6 (1): 1–126.

[MM14] Moore, G. I., S. M. Morrison, J. B. Hutchins, G. R. Allen & A. Sampey. 2014. Kimberley marine biota. Historical data: fishes. Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 84: 161–206.

[M83] Morin, J. G. 1983. Coastal bioluminescence: patterns and functions. Bulletin of Marine Science 33 (4): 787–817.

[M58] Munro, I. S. R. 1958. The fishes of the New Guinea region: a check-list of the fishes of New Guinea incorporating records of species collected by the Fisheries Survey Vessel “Fairwind” during the years 1948 to 1950. Papua and New Guinea Agricultural Journal 10 (4): 97–369 (reprinted: 1958. Territory of Papua and New Guinea Fisheries Bulletin no. 1).

[ND13] Near, T. J., A. Dornburg, R. I. Eytan, B. P. Keck, W. L. Smith, K. L. Kuhn, J. A. Moore, S. A. Price, F. T. Burbrink, M. Friedman & P. C. Wainwright. 2013. Phylogeny and tempo of diversification in the superradiation of spiny-rayed fishes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 110 (31): 12738–12743.

[PP89] Parona, C., & A. Perugia. 1889. Res Ligusticae. VIII.—Di alcuni Trematodi ectoparasiti di pesci marini. Nota preventiva. Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Genova, Serie 2a, 7: 740–747.

[P93] Patterson, C. 1993. Osteichthyes: Teleostei. In: Benton, M. J. (ed.) The Fossil Record 2 pp. 621–656. Chapman & Hall: London.

[P89] Perugia, A. 1889. Elenco dei pesci raccolti dal Dott. Elio Modigliani nelle Isole di Nias e di Sumatra. Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Genova, Serie 2a, 7: 269–277.

[SC07] Smith, W. L., & M. T. Craig. 2007. Casting the percomorph net widely: the importance of broad taxonomic sampling in the search for the placement of serranid and percid fishes. Copeia 2007 (1): 35–55.

[SC62] Starck, W. A., II & W. R. Courtenay Jr. 1962. Chorististium eukrines, a new serranid fish from Florida, with notes on related species. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 75: 159–168.

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