Anchovies

Last updated: March 30, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© evantravels/Shutterstock.com

November 12th is celebrated as National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day

Anchovies Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Clupeiformes
Family
Engraulidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Anchovies Conservation Status

Anchovies Locations

Anchovies Locations

Anchovies Facts

Prey
Recently hatched fish and planktons
Group Behavior
  • School
Fun Fact
November 12th is celebrated as National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day
Estimated Population Size
20,700 metric tons
Biggest Threat
Halibut, salmon, sharks, bluefish, striped bass, weakfish, and other fishes
Most Distinctive Feature
Protruding upper jaw that extends to behind their eyes
Habitat
Salt waters and brackish waters, as well as in temperate waters
Predators
Humans, halibut, salmon, sharks, bluefish, striped bass, weakfish, and other fishes
Diet
Omnivore
Favorite Food
Recently hatched fish and planktons
Type
Fish
Number Of Species
144

Anchovies Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Green
Skin Type
Scales
Lifespan
4 years
Weight
A few ounces
Length
5 to 6 inches, 10 inches at the maximum

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Anchovies are small green forage fishes. These fishes are very common and high in nutrition and belong to the family Engraulidae.

There are more than 100 species of anchovies – most of which are found in marine waters. However, some of these small fishes are also found in brackish waters. While some others can also exist in the fresh waters of South America.

Anchovies are fish that are mostly distinguished by their large mouths. Their upper jaw extends behind their eyes. Besides that, a long, pig-like snout extends beyond the tips of their lower jaws.

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Anchovy infographic

©A-Z-Animals.com

Incredible Facts!

  • These fishes are easier to catch on a full moon night since their bodies glisten under the moonlight. They are canned and salted right after and sometimes dried for eating purposes.
  • Anchovies are fish that can concentrate an acid, making them poisonous for humans to consume as a whole.
  • Crab paste is known to be the best bait for catching these fishes.
  • November 12th is celebrated as National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day.
  • The freshest anchovies have black irises instead of reddish ones. They are also often confused with Sardines that have white flesh.

Classification and Scientific Name

Anchovies are fish that belong to the kingdom Animalia and phylum Chordata. Their class is Actinopterygii, and they come from the order of Clupeiformes. These small fishes belong to the family Engraulidae. They also go by the scientific name Engraulidae. However, different anchovy species have different scientific names to go by.

Engraulidae comes from the Greek word Engraulis, which means anchovy. However, the name possibly comes from the word γρυλίζω, meaning “to grumble.”



Species

As per sources, there are 144 different species around the world. These different species are distributed into 17 genres. The majority of these species differentiate as the result of the location that they are found in, though there are a few ways that they distinguish themselves.

Some of the common species include:

  • European anchovy: These anchovies are one of the most common species to consume, and they are predominantly located in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea. They often have a silver underbelly, spawning through the spring and summer months.
  • Peruvian anchoveta: This species is often found in the southeast Pacific Ocean, and it is harvested by the ton.
  • Indian anchovy: The Indian anchovy also goes by the name Hardenberg’s anchovy. It can be used as either live bait or as dead bait.
  • Northern anchovy: Not to be mistaken for the European anchovy, this species is typically found in two separate parts of the United States, spanning across Oregon, Washington, and California.

Evolution

School of anchovies
Anchovies have been on earth for millions of years.

©Divefriday/Shutterstock.com

Anchovies have been around for millions of years, and their evolution is believed to be closely linked to the evolution of other species in the same family, such as herrings and sardines. It is thought that anchovies evolved from a common ancestor that lived during the Miocene epoch, some 15 million years ago. Since then, they have adapted to inhabit many different environments across the world’s oceans and seas.

Anchovies are now considered one of the most abundant fish species. Anchovy populations tend to fluctuate due to changes in ocean temperatures caused by climate change, making them vulnerable if not managed properly. Despite this vulnerability, anchovies remain one of our planet’s most important food sources due to their high nutritional value, which includes essential omega-3 fatty acids and protein content – meaning they are here to stay for generations more yet!

Anchovies vs. Sardines

Anchovies, as a result of curing, often have dark, reddish-grey flesh, while Sardines have white flesh. Sardines have a slightly protruding lower jaw, while the upper jaw of Anchovies extends till behind their eyes.

Comparatively, sardines are about two inches longer than anchovies, though they are still incredibly similar.

The main way that these two types of fish differ is in their taste. While anchovies tend to make any dish saltier. However, for individuals that want a meatier taste that is a little more mellow and subdued, then sardines may be the right choice.

Sardines belong to the Clupeidae family, while anchovies belong to the Engraulidae family.

Appearance

School of anchovies in the Atlantic Ocean
Anchovies are small green fish with longitudinal stripes of blue and silver.

©David A Litman/Shutterstock.com

These are small green fishes. They are slender and streamlined and resemble herrings a lot. Usually, they are categorized by large mouths.

Their upper jaws extend behind their eyes, and a pointed pig-like snout extends beyond the lower jaw. They have a straight lateral line.

These fishes have large scales that can be easily detached. An adult fish is about 5 to 6 inches in size. Even the heaviest of these fishes do not weigh more than a few ounces.

Distribution, Population, and Habitat

School of Swimming Anchovies
Anchovies are found in temperature waters in oceans around the world.

©iStock.com/EvanTravels

These fish are found in several oceans around the world. They live in scattered spots throughout these oceans. However, they are mostly concentrated in temperate waters.

They are very rare or are completely absent in areas with extreme temperatures. That is why it is difficult to find them in very cold or very warm waters. The European species is especially abundant in the Black Sea, Alboran Sea, and the Aegean Sea.

These fish are usually found in saltwater. However, some of them can also exist in brackish waters. They are pelagic, meaning that they thrive best in open oceans. In brackish waters, they exist in estuaries and bays.

According to a study, as of 2015, the estimated population is 20,700 metric tons.

Predators and Prey

Sailfish
Sailfish rely on anchovies and sardines for food.

©A Cotton Photo/Shutterstock.com

These fish, especially the bay anchovies, have bluefish, striped bass, and weakfish as predators. Apart from that, seabirds also feed on them, including the bay anchovy. Other predators of these fish include sharks, salmon, halibut, and other fishes. They, in turn, eat recently hatched fish as well as plankton.

What Eats Anchovies?

Anchovies are an important food source for many animals, including birds such as seagulls, penguins, and pelicans. Many marine mammals, such as dolphins, seals, and whales, rely on anchovies for food. Large predatory fish like tuna and mackerel and other smaller fish like sardines and herring all eat anchovies. Several types of reptiles, like sea turtles and crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters, also eat anchovies. Anchovies provide essential nutrients to all these creatures since they contain high levels of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium chloride (salt), iodine, trace elements/minerals needed for metabolism activities. Thus anchovies play a key role in maintaining the balance of life in oceans around the world.

What Do Anchovies Eat?

These fish feed majorly on plankton as well as recently hatched fish.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Peruvian anchoveta
Anchovies reproduce by spawning.

©Stografi/Shutterstock.com

Much like herring, the fish reproduce by spawning. Males and females gather in large groups and release their eggs and sperm into the water.

The sperms are known to fertilize the eggs outside the bodies of the fish. The eggs, once fertilized, float in water columns until they hatch.

The gestation period and the time that it usually takes for the babies to reach sexual maturity varies from species to species. They rarely live after four years of age.

Fishing and Cooking

Most of these fish are caught by Deepwater trawlers. Once caught, most of these fishes are canned and salted. After, they are turned into a paste which is later used to make sauces. Crab paste is a common bait used to bring anchovies to the surface.

Further, they are considered to be a magic ingredient in dishes. They have a savory and briny flavor. Usually, they are stir-fried in tomato sauce or shallow-fried in olive oil.

People also love these small fishes as toppings on their pizza or butter them up in their toast as an easy snack idea. They are sometimes dried for eating purposes. Dried fish also make great snacks.

Population and Conservation

School of anchovies
Overfishing is an issue for the declining andhovy populations.

©Divefriday/Shutterstock.com

The most recent population study of anchovies puts their population around 20,000 metric tons.

Anchovies are classified as a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List, meaning they have healthy populations and their conservation status is considered low risk. However, there are still several threats to anchovy populations around the world. Overfishing of anchovies has been an issue for centuries, with some stocks becoming depleted due to unsustainable fishing practices. Anchovies can also be threatened by water pollution from agricultural runoff or oil spills, which contaminate their habitats and food sources. Additionally, climate change is causing ocean temperatures to rise in many areas, which affects fish reproduction cycles and migratory patterns. It is important that we continue to monitor anchovy populations so we can ensure sustainable fisheries management and protect these important fish from further harm or a decline in numbers.

42 Types of Anchovies

There are 144 species of anchovies spanning 17 genera.

  1. Rio Negro pygmy anchovy – Amazonsprattus scintilla
  2. Zabeleta achovy – Anchovia clupeoides 
  3. Big-scale anchovy -Anchovia macrolepidota 
  4. Suriname anchovy – Anchovia surinamensis
  5. Atlantic anchovy – Cetengraulis edentulus
  6. Pacific anchovy – Cetengraulis mysticetus
  7. Buccaneer anchovy – Encrasicholina punctifer
  8. Hawaiin anchovy – Encrasicholina purpurea 
  9. Jurua anchovy – Jurengraulis juruensis
  10. Sabretooth anchovy – Lycothrissa crocodilus
  11. Chinese anchovy – Pseudosetipinna haizhouensis
  12. Scaly hair fin anchovy – Septipinna taty
  13. New Jersey anchovy – Thryssa encrasicholoides
  14. Guatama anchovy – Thryyssa guatamiensis
  15. Hamilton’s anchovy – Thryssa hamiltonii
  16. Malbar anchovy – Thryssa malabarica
  17. Gangetic anchovy – Thryssa mystax
  18. Freshwater anchovy – Thryssa scratchleyi
  19. Borad-striped anchovy Anchoa hepsetus
  20. Shortfinger anchovy – Anchoa lyolepis
  21. Bay anchovy – Anchoa mitchilli
  22. Allen’s anchovy – Anchoviella alleni
  23. Carriker’s anchovy – Anchoviella carrikeri 
  24. Manamo anchovy – Anchoviella manamensis
  25. Goldspotted grenadier anchovy – Coilia dussumieri
  26. Japanese grenadier anchovy – Coilia nanus
  27. Argentine anchovy – Engraulis anchoita
  28. Australian anchovy – Angraulis australis
  29. South African anchovy – Engraulis capensis
  30. European anchovy – Engraulis encrasicolus
  31. Japanese anchovy – Engraulis japonicus
  32. Californian anchovy – Engraulis mordax
  33. Peruvian anchovy – Engraulis ringens
  34. Bates’ sabretooth anchovy Lycengraulis batesii
  35. Atlantic sabretooth anchovy – Lycengraulis grossidens
  36. Schultz’s sabretooth anchovy – Lycengraulis limnichthys
  37. Pacific sabretooth anchovy – Lycengraulis poeyi
  38. Littlefin anchovy – Papuengraulis micropinna
  39. Wingfin anchovy – Pterengraulis atherinoides
  40. Commerson’s anchovy – Stolephorus commersonnii
  41. Indian anchovy – Stolephorus indicus
  42. Hardenberg’s anchovy – Stolephorus insularis

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

Anchovies FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are anchovies found?

Anchovies are found in different oceans around the world. They live in scattered spots throughout these oceans. However, they are mostly concentrated in temperate waters.

What are anchovies?

Anchovies are small forage fishes. These fishes are very common and belong to the family Engraulidae. There are 144 different species of anchovies.

What's the difference between anchovies and sardines?

Anchovies have dark, reddish-grey flesh while Sardines have white flesh. Sardines have a slightly protruding lower jaw while the upper jaw of Anchovies extends till behind their eyes.

What do anchovies taste like?

These small fishes have a rich, savory, and briny flavor and are savored in several parts of the world.

Can you eat anchovies raw?

If the quality is right, yes you can eat them right from the canned condition that they are usually put in. These small fishes are high in nutrition.

Are anchovies good for you?

Yes, anchovies offer immense nutrition to lower levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. It is also a very good source of protein.

Are Anchovies herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Anchovies are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals.

What Kingdom do Anchovies belong to?

Anchovies belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

How do Anchovies have babies?

Anchovies lay eggs.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. New World Encyclopedia, Available here: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Anchovy
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchovy
  3. Mobile cuisine, Available here: https://mobile-cuisine.com/did-you-know/anchovy-fun-facts/
  4. Food and Wine, Available here: https://www.foodandwine.com/seafood/fish/difference-between-sardines-and-anchovies
  5. Nature Gate, Available here: https://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/en/kalat/anchovy
  6. Animals, Available here: https://animals.net/anchovy/
  7. The Spruce Eats, Available here: https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-are-anchovies-1806993

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