Larval development of red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus, and comparisons with co-occurring snapper species


Drass, Denice M., Kevin L. Bootes, Joanne Lyczkowski-Shultz, Bruce H. Comyns, G. Joan Holt, Cecilia M. Riley, and Ronald P. Phelps
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The larval development of red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus, is described from reared larvae and from specimens collected in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Snapper larvae are pelagic and are characterized by the following features: a deep and compressed, lightly pigmented body; moderately short gut; 24 myomeres; and elongated dorsal and pelvic fins that form early in development. Specimens of L. campechanus (1.9 to 26.1 mm) also showed the presence of weak serrations on pelvic-fin spines, absence of serrations on preopercular or dorsal spines, early forming pigment in dorsal and pelvic fins, and notochord flexion between 3.6 and 5.5 mm. Preflexion larvae of the snapper subfamily Lutjaninae in GOM collections cannot be reliably identified to species despite recent larval descriptions. Species-specific differences in number, spacing, and size of melanophores in the postanal ventral series are evident in the youngest larvae of species from the GOM whose development has been described (Ocyurus chrysurus, L. analis, L. synagris, L. griseus, L. campechanus, and Rhomboplites aurorubens) but further evaluation of the utility of these characters is needed. Characteristics that distinguish mid- to late-flexion larvae of these species are compiled in our study and discussed. Among known GOM lutjanine larvae, body depth, pelvic-ray length and serrations on the angle spine of the preopercle can be used in combination with pigmentation to identify larvae to species. Presence of melanistic pigment (and size at first appearance) or absence of melanistic pigment in the following locations are useful characters for larval snapper identification: anterior surface of the visceral mass, ventral to notochord flexure; internal area over the notochord; dorsal midline of caudal peduncle; soft dorsal fin; anal-fin base or membrane; and pelvic fin.