2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Insects, Reptiles and Fish

Great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda, with prey
Great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda, with prey
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Sphyraenidae
Genus: Sphyraena
Klein, 1778

See text.

Barracudas are ray-finned fishes notable for their large size (up to 1.8 m or 6 ft) and fearsome appearance. The body is long, fairly compressed, and covered with small, smooth scales. They are found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. Their genus Sphyraena is the only genus in the family Sphyraenidae.

Appearance and physical description

Great barracuda hovering in the current at the Paradise Reef, Cozumel, Mexico.
Great barracuda hovering in the current at the Paradise Reef, Cozumel, Mexico.

Barracudas are elongated fish with powerful jaws. The lower jaw of the large mouth juts out beyond the upper. Barracudas possess strong, fang-like teeth. These are unequal in size and set in sockets in the jaws on the roof of the mouth. The head is quite large and is pointed and pike-like in appearance. The gill-covers do not have spines and are covered with small scales. The two dorsal fins are widely separated, with the first having five spines and the second having one spine and nine soft rays. The second dorsal fin equals the anal fin in size and is situated more or less above it. The lateral line is prominent and extends straight from head to tail. The spinous dorsal fin is placed above the pelvics. The hind end of the caudal fin is forked or concave. It is set at the end of a stout peduncle. The pectoral fins are placed low down on the sides. The barracuda swim bladder is large.

In general, the barracuda's coloration is dark green or grey above chalky-white below. This varies somewhat. Sometimes there is a row of darker cross-bars or black spots on each side. The fins may be yellowish or dusky.

Order and suborder

Barracudas belong to the great order of Perch-like fish, Perciformes. Along with the smaller grey mullets and sand smelts or atherines, barracudas form the suborder known as mugiloids. Members of this group are distinguished from the Percoids by the backward position of the pelvic fins, which are located well behind the pectorals.


Scuba diver inside a school of sawtooth barracudas in Koh Tao, Thailand.
Scuba diver inside a school of sawtooth barracudas in Koh Tao, Thailand.

Barracudas occur both singly and in schools around reefs, but also appear in open seas. They are voracious predators and hunt using a classic example of lie-in-wait or ambush. They rely on surprise and short bursts of speed (up to 27mph) to overrun their prey, sacrificing maneuverability.

The larger barracuda are more or less solitary in their habits. Young and half-grown fish frequently congregate in shoals. Their food is composed almost totally of fishes of all kinds. Large barracudas, when gorged, may attempt to hoard a shoal of prey fish in shallow water, where they guard over them until they are ready for another meal.

Barracudas and Humans

Like sharks, barracudas have long had a bad reputation as being dangerous to humans. However, unprovoked attacks on humans are extremely rare and millions of scuba divers, snorkelers and swimmers spend time with them in the water without any incidents. Barracudas sometimes do follow snorkelers and scuba divers across a reef, which can make one feel uncomfortable, but they are harmless unless provoked. Because barracudas have a scavenger-like tendency, it has been theorized that barracudas tend to follow snorkelers because they believe that the snorkeler(s) might be a large predator(s) and if they were to capture prey it would be easy for the barracudas to scavenge whatever may be left behind.

Being formidable hunters, they should be respected, as barracudas are perfectly capable of defending themselves against humans that harass them. Handfeeding or trying to touch them is strongly discouraged. Spearfishing around barracudas can also be quite dangerous, as they are strongly attracted by the wounded fish.

There have been isolated cases where barracudas did bite a human thinking that part of it was a fish, but these incidents are rare and are believed to be caused by bad visibility. Barracudas will stop after the first bite as humans are not their normal food source.

As food

They are caught as food and game fish. They are most often eaten as fillet or steak and have a strong taste like tuna or salmon. Larger species, like the great barracuda, have in some areas been implicated in cases of ciguatera food poisoning.


Barracudas are caught using fishing nets of various types along with trolling with lines baited with fish or other prey. The acute inquisitiveness of barracudas, together with their possessing hearty appetites, means that they will readily bite at artificial lures made up of feathers, pieces of colored rag, etc. Trolling for barracuda is a favorite sport on the coast of Florida. Here they are also caught on rod and line from stationary boats. The record for a hook and line caught great barracuda is 1.7 meter (5.5 ft), weighing 44 kilogram (103 lbs).


A school of sawtooth barracudas, Sphyraena putnamae in Bora Bora.
A school of sawtooth barracudas, Sphyraena putnamae in Bora Bora.
Northern sennet, Sphyraena borealis
Northern sennet, Sphyraena borealis

There are 26 species:

  • Sharpfin barracuda, Sphyraena acutipinnis Day, 1876.
  • Guinean barracuda, Sphyraena afra Peters, 1844.
  • Pacific barracuda, Sphyraena argentea Girard, 1854.
  • Great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda ( Walbaum, 1792).
  • Northern sennet, Sphyraena borealis DeKay, 1842.
  • Yellowstripe barracuda, Sphyraena chrysotaenia Klunzinger, 1884.
  • Mexican barracuda, Sphyraena ensis Jordan & Gilbert, 1882.
  • Yellowtail barracuda, Sphyraena flavicauda Rüppell, 1838.
  • Bigeye barracuda, Sphyraena forsteri Cuvier, 1829.
  • Guachanche barracuda, Sphyraena guachancho Cuvier, 1829.
  • Heller's barracuda, Sphyraena helleri Jenkins, 1901.
  • Sphyraena iburiensis Doiuchi & Nakabo, 2005.
  • Pelican barracuda, Sphyraena idiastes Heller & Snodgrass, 1903.
  • Japanese barracuda, Sphyraena japonica Cuvier, 1829.
  • Pickhandle barracuda, Sphyraena jello Cuvier, 1829.
  • Lucas barracuda, Sphyraena lucasana Gill, 1863.
  • Australian barracuda, Sphyraena novaehollandiae Günther, 1860.
  • Obtuse barracuda, Sphyraena obtusata Cuvier, 1829.
  • Southern sennet, Sphyraena picudilla Poey, 1860.
  • Red barracuda, Sphyraena pinguis Günther, 1874.
  • Sawtooth barracuda, Sphyraena putnamae Jordan & Seale, 1905.
  • Blackfin barracuda, Sphyraena qenie Klunzinger, 1870.
  • European barracuda, Sphyraena sphyraena (Linnaeus, 1758).
  • Sphyraena tome Fowler, 1903.
  • Yellowmouth barracuda, Sphyraena viridensis Cuvier, 1829.
  • Sphyraena waitii Ogilby, 1908.

Only some species of barracuda grow to a large size. The species which do are the European barracuda, barracouta or spet (S. sphyraena), found in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic; the great barracuda, picuda or becuna (S. picuda), ranging on the Atlantic coast of tropical America from Florida to Brazil and reaching the Bermudas; the California Barracuda (S. argentea), extending from Puget Sound southwards to Cape San Lucas; the Indian barracuda (S. jello) and the black-finned or Commerson's barracuda (S. commersoni), both from the seas of India and the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago.

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