Bass

Last updated: December 28, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/stammphoto

Prized by sport fishers for their size and strength

Bass Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Perciformes

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Bass Conservation Status


Bass Facts

Prey
Insects, plankton, worms, fish, frogs, birds, crustaceans
Main Prey
Fish and insects
Name Of Young
Fry
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • School
Fun Fact
Prized by sport fishers for their size and strength
Biggest Threat
Fishing and habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Protruding lower jaw
Distinctive Feature
Sturdy, powerful bodies
Gestation Period
Varies by species
Average Spawn Size
A few thousand to hundreds of thousands
Habitat
Freshwater and saltwater
Predators
Fish, birds, seals, sharks, orcas
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • School
Favorite Food
Fish and insects
Location
Worldwide
Nesting Location
Gravel or sand beds, open ocean
Migratory
1

Bass Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
  • Gold
  • Green
  • Dark Brown
  • Olive
  • Light Grey
  • Dark Grey
Skin Type
Scales
Lifespan
From 8 to 75 years
Weight
Varies by species
Length
Varies by species
Venomous
No
Aggression
Medium

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Summary

Bass are freshwater and marine fish that belong to the order of Perciformes. You can find them all over the world in rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, as well as brackish estuaries and the open ocean. Many sport fishers and anglers prize this fish for their size and strength as well as for their mild flavor. 

5 Facts

  • They are highly prized by sport fishers and anglers around the world for their large size and willingness to put up a fight. 
  • During the breeding season, males turn bright blue and green around the eyes and neck. 
  • The word is derived from the Middle English word bars, meaning “perch.” 
  • Males protect their eggs and fry and will aggressively drive away any predators that come near their nests.
  • Largemouth bass often eat prey 30% to 50% of their size but will sometimes eat prey up to 70% of their size. 

Classification and Scientific Name

The word bass is used to refer to hundreds of different fish species belonging to the order Perciformes or “perch-like” fish. The term derives from the Middle English word bars, meaning “perch.” Black basses belong to the sunfish family Centrarchidae and include well-known freshwater fish like the smallmouth bass (Micropterus haiku), largemouth bass (M. salmoides), and spotted bass (M. punctulatus). Then there are anadromous temperate basses that live in fresh and saltwater, like the European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), and white bass (M. chrysops). Asian seabasses include the Japanese seabass (Lateolabrax japonicus) and the Blackfin seabass (L. latus). Some other fish that share the name include the Australian bass (Macquaria novemaculeata), black sea bass (Centropristis striata), Chilean sea bass (Dissostichus eleginoides), butterfly peacock bass (Cichla ocellaris), and giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas). 

Appearance 

Black Sea Bass
Some other fish that share the name bass include the black sea bass (Centropristis striata).

©iStock.com/KGrif

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Although all belong to the Perciformes order, they have just as many differences as similarities when it comes to appearances. Generally speaking, this fish is a medium-to-large-sized fish with a powerful, robust body. Smallmouths can grow up to 11.94 pounds, while largemouths can measure up to 25 pounds. Meanwhile, striped bass can grow up to 124 pounds, and giant sea bass can measure 562 pounds. Black basses appear predominantly olive-green with black, brown, or greyish markings on the sides. While many feature a characteristic protruding jaw, this feature does not present itself in all species. 

Distribution, Population, and Habitat

You can find them in myriad habitats and regions all over the world. They can be roughly divided into three different groups: freshwater, anadromous, and marine. Freshwater black bass are native to North America and can be found in rivers, lakes, and ponds throughout the continent. Some – such as the Texas-native Guadalupe bass (Micropterus treculii) or the Australian bass –  live in a relatively limited range. On the other hand, largemouth and smallmouth bass are widely distributed. Today, you can even find largemouths in non-native habitats, including Japan and Spain. Striped bass are common off the Atlantic coast of North America, and European seabass are found off the coasts of western Europe and northern Africa. As their name implies, Asian seabasses live in the western Pacific around Japan and South Korea

Similar to distribution, the type of habitat that they live in varies depending on the species. Largemouths frequent slow-moving, warm ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and swamps with plenty of vegetation. Meanwhile, smallmouths prefer clearer, cooler water and also thrive in systems with strong currents. You can often find black sea back near rocky substrates in shallow water but also in offshore waters up to 430 feet deep. As for Chilean seabass, they thrive in cold waters and migrate between depths of 150 and 12,630 feet below the surface. 



Predators and Prey

As juveniles, they have many different predators, including other fish and birds. Once they reach adulthood, most reach the status of apex predator within their local environment. However, even large adults face the occasional threat. For example, adult freshwater bass must contend with large birds like eagles and herons. Similarly, adult sea bass are preyed upon by sharks, orcas, seals, and large sea birds.  

An opportunistic carnivore, they eat whatever they can fit in their mouths. When they are young, they typically feed on plankton, insect larvae, insects, worms, and small crustaceans. Once they reach adulthood, their diet includes crabs, crayfish, and small fish such as minnows, shiners, and shad. If given the chance, adult largemouth bass will even eat small birds, frogs, and snakes. Meanwhile, juvenile sea bass tend to feed mostly on insects, small crustaceans, and fish larvae. As they grow, their diet expands to include lobsters, squid, crabs, and pelagic fish. Possessing a keen sense of smell, they are able to detect food from far away. While they can overpower and chase down most fish, freshwater bass often rely on ambush tactics to surprise their prey. They wait in cover for prey to swim close, then lunge forward to gobble up their meal. 

Reproduction and Lifespan 

The spawning habits vary depending on the species and environment. Largemouth bass sexually mature at around one year old, while smallmouths mature at around 3 years old. Both species tend to spawn in spring as the water starts to get warmer. Males form nests where the females lay their eggs which the males then ferociously guard even after the fry emerge from the eggs. On average, female largemouths lay between 3,000 and 4,000 eggs per pound of body weight, while smallmouths lay around 21,000 eggs on average. On the other end of the spectrum is the white bass. White bass parents don’t look after the eggs or fry at all, but they make up for their lack of parenting by laying large amounts of eggs. A single female can lay anywhere from 242,000 to 933,000 eggs which stick to the surface of objects. 

Most black bass live for around 8 to 12 years in the wild but can live much longer given the right conditions. Largemouths can reach up to 16 years old, while the oldest recorded smallmouths live to 34 years in captivity. Sea bass can live even longer, thanks to their delayed growth and the cold environment in which they live. Chilean sea bass can live up to 50 years, while giant sea bass can live to age 75 or older. 

Food and Cooking

The flavor varies depending on the species and the way in which you prepare it for cooking. While most have a clean, mild taste, some people find that certain species – such as largemouth – have a watery, fishy smell and flavor. On the other hand, smallmouth has a much lighter, sweeter taste. Many sea basses, such as striped sea bass or Chilean sea bass, have higher fat content and are therefore prized for their buttery taste and flaky texture. Different cultures around the world use their own unique methods to prepare them based on the local ingredients and species available in their region. The most common methods for cooking include frying, baking, sauteing, and poaching. Larger freshwater bass and sea bass also hold up well to grilling, broiling, and other high-heat cooking methods.

Population

Most of their fish stocks appear relatively healthy and show few or no signs of decline. Moreover, numerous species, such as the largemouth, are thriving thanks to their introduction to freshwater systems outside of their native range. As a result, the IUCN lists most of this species of Least Concern. However, several stocks around the world show moderate signs of decline, and a few are at significant risk of extirpation. The Chilean sea bass is on several seafood watchlists due to declining numbers in several regions, including Chile. Similarly, although the IUCN lists the Australian bass as a species of Least Concern, some conservationists argue that it is threatened in its native Australia due to climate change and water management projects. Currently, the giant sea bass faces the greatest risk of this species. Due to overfishing, the IUCN lists them as Critically Endangered.    

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Bass FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are bass carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Bass are carnivores that like to ambush their prey from cover. They eat a wide variety of prey, including fish, frogs, snakes, crustaceans, small birds, and even baby alligators.

Where are bass found?

You can find bass in freshwater and water habitats all over the world. Black basses in the sunfish family live in freshwater, while temperate basses and Asian seabasses can live in both saltwater and freshwater. Meanwhile, many other sea bass species live solely in marine environments.

How to catch bass?

To catch bass, you’ll want to ensure you’re using the right equipment and setup. The type of equipment and methods used will vary depending on the species you’re trying to catch. Generally, larger bass require large hooks, rods, and lures than smaller bass.

What is the most popular bass fish?

The largemouth bass is one of the most common and popular bass species in North America and worldwide. They are known for putting up a great fight and are also excellent food fish.

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Sources
  1. Fisheries, Available here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/black-sea-bass
  2. American Oceans, Available here: https://www.americanoceans.org/species/striped-bass/#:~:text=Threats%20%26%20Predators%201%20Human%20Threats%20Humans%20are,and%20fish-eating%20birds.%20...%204%20Other%20Threats%20
  3. Fish and Wildlife Service, Available here: https://fws.gov/species/largemouth-bass-micropterus-salmoides
  4. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Available here: https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/fisheries/species-information/smallmouth-bass.html
  5. American Oceans, Available here: https://www.americanoceans.org/species/giant-sea-bass/
  6. Marine Species, Available here: https://marinespecies.wildlife.ca.gov/white-seabass/#:~:text=White%20Seabass%20Enhanced%20Status%20Report%201%20Scientific%20Name,7%20Prey%20...%208%20Predators%20...%20More%20items
  7. NSW, Available here: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/fish-species/species-list/australian-bass

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