Red Drum Fish

Sciaenops ocellatus

Last updated: January 31, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© IrinaK/Shutterstock.com

There were a few sightings of red drums in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily and Israel, but they do not naturally occur there, so theories are they escaped from fish farms.


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Red Drum Fish Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Acanthuriformes
Family
Sciaenidae
Genus
Sciaenops
Scientific Name
Sciaenops ocellatus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Red Drum Fish Conservation Status

Red Drum Fish Locations

Red Drum Fish Locations

Red Drum Fish Facts

Name Of Young
Larvae
Group Behavior
  • Group
Fun Fact
There were a few sightings of red drums in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily and Israel, but they do not naturally occur there, so theories are they escaped from fish farms.
Biggest Threat
Humans
Other Name(s)
Channel bass, spottail bass, redfish, puppy drum, and red
Average Spawn Size
20 to 40 million
Predators
Large fish and birds like the osprey.
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Common Name
Red drum
Origin
Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean
Number Of Species
275

Red Drum Fish Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Red
  • Silver
Skin Type
Scales
Age of Sexual Maturity
3-6
Aggression
Medium

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The red drum goes by many names, including channel bass, spottail bass, redfish, puppy drum, and just red. They are game fish primarily found in certain parts of the Gulf of Mexico, from Florida to northern Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. These fish are close relatives to the black drum, and the two species have been known to crossbreed, resulting in a robust hybrid. Their most distinguishing feature is their dark red backs that fade into white on their bellies. In addition, they have streamlined bodies and a prominent black spot or eye spot on the base of their tail.

The red drum derived its name from its reddish-bronze coloring, but it comes in other colors, varying from copper, silvery-gray, and deep black.

These drums are one of the fastest-growing fishes in the world. They generally occupy shallow waters with plenty of vegetation, like seagrass. Furthermore, you can often find them in oyster reefs. They also live in freshwater and often venture many miles upriver. Red drums reproduce by spawning. This is when the female releases her eggs into the water, and the males swim above them, depositing their sperm over the eggs.

Three Amazing Red Drum Facts!

  • Male red drums have specific muscles on their body walls that they use to drum their swimbladders, making a croaking noise.
  • These fish generally grow 20 to 30 inches long but can reach lengths of five feet, and they weigh up to 90 pounds.
  • Red drums are closely related to the black drum, and the two species have crossbred in the past, resulting in a robust hybrid.

Red Drum Scientific Name

The red drum’s scientific name is Sciaenops ocellatus, and they belong to the order Acanthuriformes, which consists of ray-finned fishes. This order contains 85 species in eight genera over three families. Therefore, it includes species like:

Red drums are members of the Sciaenidae family, made up of croakers and drums named after the sounds they make.

Interestingly, males have specific muscles on their body walls that they use to drum their swimbladders. Red drum females also have sonic musculature; however, researchers are unsure how they use these noises to communicate.



Red Drum Appearance

The red drum has a silver base and is covered with a red tinge, while their bellies are silvery-gray. In addition, they have irregular patterns on their bodies due to their scales having darker centers. The unique dark spot found at the bottom of their tails is not there to be aesthetically pleasing; it serves a purpose. This spot is supposed to mimic the eye, so predators attack the wrong end of the fish, giving them extra time to escape. These fish generally grow 20 to 30 inches long but can reach lengths of five feet, and they weigh up to 90 pounds.

Man holding a large red drum

Red drums are carnivores who feed on crustaceans and small fish.

©IrinaK/Shutterstock.com

Red Drum Behavior

The red drum primarily lives in large groups, which helps keep them safe from predators by significantly reducing the chance of being caught. However, researchers know very little about how they communicate. But, they do know that red drums make a croaking noise during spawning season, used to attract a member of the opposite sex. They can also make these sounds when under attack. For example, they are known to croak loudly when an angler pulls them out of the water. Males can also produce a knocking sound from muscles hitting against their swimbladder.

Red Drum Habitat

You can find red drums along the eastern and southern Atlantic. But, they also occur in the Gulf of Mexico coastal regions of Alabama, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. However, there were a few sightings of red drums in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily and Israel, but they do not naturally occur there, so theories are they escaped from fish farms.

Red drums are a nearshore species that adapt to a wide range of habitats, such as:

  • River mouths
  • Estuaries
  • Sandy bottoms
  • Bays
  • Mud flats
  • Oyster bottoms
  • Seagrass beds
  • Continental shelves
  • Surf zones

Juveniles primarily occur in shallow coastal waters, river mouths, and estuaries until they reach the age of 3 or 4. Once they reach this stage, they migrate to open coastal waters, leaving the protection of the estuary.

Red drums typically form groups, but some have displayed solitary behavior. Furthermore, these fish have been known to school with tarpon, black drum, and other species.

Red Drum Diet

The red drum’s diet will vary depending on its habitat. However, the juvenile’s diet only consists of shrimp. But, as they get older and grow to around 5.9 to 7.9 inches, their diet starts to change and mainly consists of small fish, crustaceans, and fiddler crabs.

Red Drum Predators and Threats

Animals that prey on red drums include large fish and birds like the osprey. However, they are primarily hunted by humans.

The red drum is listed as a Least Concern on IUCN’s Redlist, and their population is stable, but their numbers are threatened by pollution, climate change, and overfishing.

Red Drum Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Like many members of its family, the red drum spawn in areas with a strong tidal flow and high salinity. For example, they prefer areas near barrier island passes. Their spawning season takes place from August to October and generally lasts for 8 to 9 weeks.

When their breeding season begins, males will swarm prime spawning areas in large numbers, and their stamina allows them to spawn every night. Most activity occurs at night, where they form large schools called drumming aggregations due to the noise males make by drumming their swimbladders. This noise helps to attract females and is a way of showing off. However, females only appear in these spawning spots when they are ready to spawn, once every two to seven days. Therefore, recreational fishermen catch a large majority of male red drums during this period, as they are out every night.

The amount of eggs a female red drum can spawn in a season is spectacular. While they only spawn for a two-month period, which is less than half of other species like the spotted seatrout, females can produce approximately 1.5 million eggs a day. So, if they spawn every two to four days, an individual female can produce between 20 to 40 million eggs in a season!

The age of reproductive maturity varies. In general, most red drums leave coastal waters to spawn at the age of 5. However, offshore schools have contained immature fish aged 2 to 5. In addition, a small percentage of females mature when they reach 9 pounds at the age of 3, and some males mature when they reach 5 pounds at the age of 2. But, all males are sexually mature by 5, and all females are ready to spawn when they are 6 years old. Once they have reached adulthood, they will breed for the rest of their lives.

Lifespan/Longevity

Red drums have long lifespans as they can exceed 40 years of age.

Red Drum Population

Unfortunately, there is no record of the red drum’s population size. However, due to the high amount of offspring they produce each year and lack of threats, their population is stable, and IUCN listed them as a Least Concern.

Similar Tasting Species

Red drum is a very popular fish because their flesh has a firm but flaky white texture and tastes mildly sweet. But this fish is not always available, so suitable replacements include:

Cod

The codfish’s scientific name is Gadus morhua. However, cod is a general term to describe several species from the demersal fish genus. The Atlantic Pollock is considered one of the best-tasting cods because of its oily texture and strong taste.

These fish are found in cold and deep water regions of the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But, the cod’s largest population occurs in the Northeast Atlantic, and they are known as Arctic cod and inhabit the Barents Sea. Their spawning season starts in March and extends to April. But, unlike the red drum, cod is overfished and harvested before reaching reproductive maturity, causing a decline in population numbers. Therefore, several countries have restrictions in place to prevent overfishing,

Haddock

The haddock’s scientific name is Melanogrammus aeglefinus, and they belong to a group of ray-finned fish occurring in marine water. These fish belong to the family Gadidae and inhabit regions across the North and East Atlantic. Haddock plays a large part in essential fisheries and is a main attraction in commercial and recreational fishing.

These fish are a saltwater demersal species, better known as groundfish, and inhabit the depths of the ocean bottoms between 133 to 1,500 feet below the surface.

Haddock and cod are very similar but are distinguished by the haddock’s lateral line, which is darker, and their dark gray bodies. But cods have greenish-brown bodies and a lighter lateral line. In addition, the haddock is smaller and slimmer than the cod, and they have a prominent dark blotch above their pectoral fin.

Haddock is a favorite amongst people who enjoy a flavorful taste, and you might be pleasantly surprised to know that it has more nutritional value than cod. Commercial fisheries fish for haddock all year round, and they are sold smoked, frozen, or dry.

Lake Whitefish

Lake whitefish’s scientific name is Coregonus clupeaformis, and they make up the most percentage of whitefish populations in the Great Lakes. In addition, they are the largest species in their family. These fish are native to freshwater lakes but originated in the Great Lakes of Canada and North America.

The lake whitefish is a significant part of commercial fisheries and is a deep-bodied fish. They prefer to inhabit cold, shallow waters, deep waters, inland lakes, and sea beds. In addition, they have silver coloration, but their scales range in color from light brown to olive green. These fish like to prey on snails, shrimps, small clams, and midge larvae.

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About the Author

Chanel Coetzee is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily focusing on big cats, dogs, and travel. Chanel has been writing and researching about animals for over 10 years. She has also worked closely with big cats like lions, cheetahs, leopards, and tigers at a rescue and rehabilitation center in South Africa since 2009. As a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, Chanel enjoys beach walks with her Stafford bull terrier and traveling off the beaten path.

Red Drum Fish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is another name for red drum fish?

The red drum is known by many names, including channel bass, spottail bass, redfish, puppy drum, and just red.

Where do red drums live?

You can find red drums along the eastern and southern Atlantic. But, they also occur in the Gulf of Mexico coastal regions of Alabama, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. However, there were a few sightings of red drums in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily and Israel, but they do not naturally occur there, so theories are they escaped from fish farms.

How big do red drums get?

These fish generally grow 20 to 30 inches long but can reach lengths of five feet, and they weigh up to 90 pounds.

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

Sources

  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_drum
  2. Chesapeake Bay, Available here: https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/red-drum
  3. Fish Mad Pro, Available here: https://www.fishmadpro.com/interesting-facts-about-red-drum-fish-sclaenops-ocellatus-species/
  4. IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/193270/82667516

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