Temporal range: 56–0 Ma Early Eocene to Present
|Sphyraena barracuda in Saba, Netherlands Antilles|
J. T. Klein, 1778
The barracuda is a ray-finned fish known for its large size, fearsome appearance and furious behaviour. The barracuda is a saltwater fish of the genus Sphyraena, the only genus in the family Sphyraenidae, and is found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide ranging from the Eastern border of the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and Caribbean Sea. They are found near the top of the water and near coral reefs and sea grasses.
Snake-like in appearance, with prominent, sharp-edged, fang-like teeth, much like piranhas, all of different sizes, set in sockets of their large jaws. They have large, pointed heads with an underbite in many species. Their gill covers have no spines and are covered with small scales. Their two dorsal fins are widely separated, with the anterior fin having five spines, and the posterior fin having one spine and 9 soft rays. The posterior dorsal fin is similar in size to the anal fin and is situated above it. The lateral line is prominent and extends straight from head to tail. The spinous dorsal fin is placed above the pelvic fins and is normally retracted in a groove. The caudal fin is moderately forked with its posterior edged double-curved and is set at the end of a stout peduncle. The pectoral fins are placed low on the sides. Its swim bladder is large.
In most cases, a barracuda is dark blue, dark green, white, or gray on its upper body, with silvery sides and a chalky-white belly. Coloration varies somewhat between species. For some species, irregular and unorganized black spots or a row of darker cross-bars occur on each side. Their fins may be yellowish or dusky. Barracudas live primarily in oceans, but certain species, such as the great barracuda, live in brackish water.
Some species grow quite large, such as Sphyraena sphyraena, found in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic; Sphyraena picudilla, ranging on the Atlantic coast of tropical America from North Carolina to Brazil and reaching Bermuda. Other barracuda species are found around the world. Examples are Sphyraena argentea, found from Puget Sound southwards to Cabo San Lucas, Sphyraena jello, from the seas of India and the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago.
There are currently 28 recognized species in this genus:
- Sphyraena arabiansis E. M. Abdussamad, Ratheesh, Thangaraja, Bineesh & D. Prakashan, 2015 (Arabian barracuda) 
- Sphyraena acutipinnis F. Day, 1876 (Sharpfin barracuda)
- Sphyraena afra W. K. H. Peters, 1844 (Guinean barracuda)
- Sphyraena argentea Girard, 1854 (Pacific barracuda)
- Sphyraena barracuda (G. Edwards, 1771) (Great barracuda)
- Sphyraena borealis DeKay, 1842 (Northern sennet)
- Sphyraena chrysotaenia Klunzinger, 1884 (Yellowstripe barracuda)
- Sphyraena ensis D. S. Jordan & C. H. Gilbert, 1882 (Mexican barracuda)
- Sphyraena flavicauda Rüppell, 1838 (Yellowtail barracuda)
- Sphyraena forsteri G. Cuvier, 1829 (Bigeye barracuda)
- Sphyraena guachancho G. Cuvier, 1829 (Guachanche barracuda)
- Sphyraena helleri O. T. Jenkins, 1901 (Heller's barracuda)
- Sphyraena iburiensis Doiuchi & Nakabo, 2005
- Sphyraena idiastes Heller & Snodgrass, 1903 (Pelican barracuda)
- Sphyraena intermedia Pastore, 2009 
- Sphyraena japonica Bloch & J. G. Schneider, 1801 (Japanese barracuda)
- Sphyraena jello G. Cuvier, 1829 (Pickhandle barracuda)
- Sphyraena lucasana T. N. Gill, 1863 (Lucas barracuda)
- Sphyraena novaehollandiae Günther, 1860 (Australian barracuda)
- Sphyraena obtusata G. Cuvier, 1829 (Obtuse barracuda)
- Sphyraena picudilla Poey, 1860 (Southern sennet)
- Sphyraena pinguis Günther, 1874 (Red barracuda)
- Sphyraena putnamae D. S. Jordan & Seale, 1905 (Sawtooth barracuda)
- Sphyraena qenie Klunzinger, 1870 (Blackfin barracuda)
- Sphyraena sphyraena (Linnaeus, 1758) (European barracuda)
- Sphyraena tome Fowler, 1903
- Sphyraena viridensis G. Cuvier, 1829 (Yellowmouth barracuda)
- Sphyraena waitii W. Ogilby, 1908
Behavior and diet
Adults of most species are more or less solitary, while young and half-grown fish frequently congregate. Barracudas prey primarily on fish (which may include some as large as themselves). They kill and consume larger prey by tearing chunks of flesh. Barracuda are competitive species and often are seen competing against mackerel, needle fish and sometimes even dolphins for prey.
Barracuda feed on an array of prey including fish such as jacks, grunts, groupers, snappers, small tunas, mullets, killifishes, herrings, and anchovies by simply biting them in half. They also seem to consume smaller species of sustenance that are in front of them.
Interactions with humans
Like sharks, some species of barracuda are reputed to be dangerous to swimmers. Barracudas are scavengers, and may mistake snorkellers for large predators, following them hoping to eat the remains of their prey. Swimmers have reported being bitten by barracuda, but such incidents are rare and possibly caused by poor visibility. Large barracudas can be encountered in muddy shallows on rare occasion. Barracudas may mistake things that glint and shine for prey. One incident reported a barracuda jumping out of water and injuring a kayaker, but Jason Schratwieser, conservation director of the International Game Fish Association, said that the wound could have been caused by a houndfish.
Handfeeding or touching large barracudas in general is to be avoided. Spearfishing around barracudas can also be dangerous, as they are quite capable of ripping a chunk from a wounded fish thrashing on a spear, or out of the arm which is holding the spear. Humans are not on their preferred menu, but haste can lead to confusion.
Barracudas are popular both as food and game fish. They are most often eaten as fillets or steaks. Larger species, such as the great barracuda, have been implicated in cases of ciguatera food poisoning. Those who have been diagnosed with this type of food poisoning display symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort, limb weakness, and an inability to differentiate hot from cold effectively.
In popular culture
A barracuda makes a brief but important appearance in the film Finding Nemo, devouring the wife of the protagonist and 399 of their 400 eggs.
Barracuda is the name of a popular song by the American rock band Heart. It was released and recorded in 1977 on their album Little Queen, with the predatory fish being a metaphor describing a distasteful man.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sphyraenidae.|
- Sepkoski, J. (2002). "A compendium of fossil marine animal genera". Bulletins of American Paleontology 364: 560.
- Millburn, N. "The Great Barracuda's Diet". Animals - PawNation.
- Abdussamad, E.M., Retheesh, T.B., Thangaraja, R., Bineesh, K.K. & Prakashan, D. (2015). "Sphyraena arabiansis a new species of barracuda (Family: Sphyraenidae) from the south-west coast of India". Indian Journal of Fisheries 62 (2): 1–6.
- Pastore, M.A. (2009). "Sphyraena intermedia sp. nov. (Pisces: Sphyraenidae): a potential new species of barracuda identified from the central Mediterranean Sea". Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 89 (6): 1299–1303. doi:10.1017/s0025315409000575.
- Martin, R.A. "What's the Speediest Marine Creature?". ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research.
- "Barracuda Fish Facts". AtlanticPanic.
- Bester, C. "Great barracuda". Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department.
- Fletcher, P. (2010). Marshall, J., ed. "Jumping barracuda injures kayaker off Florida Keys". Reuters.
- Fleshler, D. & Ortega, J. (2010). "Leaping fish punctures lung of woman kayaking in Keys". Sun Sentinel.
- "Hazard, Market, Geographic and Nomenclature Information for Great Barracuda". Regulatory Fish Encyclopedia (RFE). U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 2002. Archived from the original on 2003-02-26.
- "Heart" episode, Behind the Music, VH1.com