Bonefish Life Cycle

Once thought to be a single species worldwide, more than nine species of bonefish have now been identified. Since so many species of bonefish are very similar in appearance, much of the species identification has been done using genetic analysis. There are at least 6 species in the Pacific, and three in the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean, until recently it was thought that there was only one species of shallow water bonefish, Albula vulpes. In 2001, however, genetics was used to identify a second species, tentatively called Albula species B. So far, research shows that most bonefish caught by recreational anglers is Albula vulpes, but some Albula species B have been caught in the Bahamas. research is ongoing to make sure this is true. This is important research – after all, we have to know which species is/are in the fishery in order to have effective management.

1. Spawning. 

In the Pacific, it is known that bonefish spawn near the full moon in many months of the year. Bonefish gather in lagoons behind reefs before heading offshore to spawn. In the Caribbean, we are not sure where bonefish spawn, but we know that they spawn between November and May.

2.  Larval Phase. 

Using the daily growth rings to age larval bonefish, their estimated time as plankton is from 42 to 72 days, quite a long time to be living in the open ocean.

3. Larval settlement and early juvenile.

If they survive the planktonic stage, larval bonefish find shallow waters where they change into miniature versions of their parents. Unfortunately, we’re not sure where this occurs.

4.  Juvenile.

Despite extensive sampling throughout the Florida Keys and Caribbean, we don’t have a handle on which habitats are required by juvenile bonefish.  We have found a lot of juvenile bonefish while sampling sandy beaches and open sandy bottom, but nearly all have been Albula garcia – not the species caught by recreational anglers. The search goes on.

5. Larger juveniles (adolescents) and sub-adults.

We do know that large juveniles live mostly on open sandy bottoms in deeper water than we tend to fish for adults. Many of the large ‘muds’ of bonefish are dominated by large juveniles and pre-adults.

6. Adults. 

This is what we fish for, so we know most about the adults. There have been numerous studies on what they eat, their movements, their recovery from catch-and-release fishing, and how fast they grow.