Snappers belong to the Lutjanus genus and the Lutjanidae family of Perciformes fish. Snappers, especially red ones, are common game fishes in Florida waters.
Did you know that red snappers can spawn more than 20 times in intervals of five to six weeks in May and October each year?
Most snapper species grow fast, making them unsuitable for aquarium use. This article focuses on popular types of snapper that anglers usually target, their appearance, distribution, and fascinating facts.
Table of Contents
Overview of Snapper
Snappers are active, schooling fish with forked or blunt tails, sharp canine teeth, large mouths, and elongated bodies. They’re usually rather large, with most growing to attain a length of two to three feet (60-90 centimeters). Snappers are carnivores; they prey on crustaceans, among other fishes.
There are over 100 snapper species discovered throughout the world. They’re found abundantly in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. Snappers prefer tropical and subtropical climates. They dwell at depths of between 450 and 500 miles.
Not all snappers are edible. A few species, including the dog snapper of the Atlantic Ocean, contain ciguatera poison.
Northern Red Snapper
Scientific Name: Lutjanus campechanus
Distribution: Central America, North America, Gulf of Mexico
Average Size: 24-40 inches
The northern red snapper is the most popular in the United States. You will find their schools around the underwater structure at depths exceeding 20 feet. This snapper species can grow up to 40 inches and live for over 50 years. Due to northern red snappers’ delicious reputation, they have a strong commercial harvest. It’s such an exhilarating experience to catch one of these aggressive eater fish.
Scientific Name: Lutjanus buccanella
Distribution: Gulf of Mexico, North Brazil, Trinidad, Bermuda, Tropical Western Atlantic
Average Size: 20-30 inches
The black snapper is a traditional name for the gray snapper. Many Louisiana folks commonly call it a mango snapper.
More interesting is that this gray snapper is seldom gray upon growing to over 14 inches – it turns brick-red. When on their own, black snappers feed most heavily at night or in the late afternoon. Anglers catch them throughout daylight hours.
Scientific Name: Lutjanus cyanopterus
Distribution: West Atlantic Ocean from Brazil to Massachusetts
Average Size: 36 inches
Cubera snappers are the largest snapper species in the world, weighing up to 40 lbs. They have red-orange scales, large heads, and canine-like teeth, giving them a mean look. Anglers in Panama easily catch Cubera snappers near the islands, by submerged rocks, and in shallow waters less than 70 meters in-show. Anyone intending to catch these epic snappers should be ready for a fight because they’ll easily take off for the bottom in a hard run.
Scientific Name: Lutjanus synagris
Distribution: Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda, South America, Brazil, North Carolina
Average Size: 20-25 inches
Lane snappers are among the smallest snapper species. The largest lane snapper can hardly get a length of 25 inches and weigh 8lbs. Their distinct coloration of red to pink on their upper side, fading to a silvery-yellow belly, makes up for their small size. The horizontal lines on this snapper species’ side vary from yellow to pink. You’ll commonly find these fish at depths between 20 and 250 feet.
Scientific Name: Lutjanus griseus
Distribution: Bahamas, West Indies, Florida Coast, Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda, Massachusetts
Average Size: 18-24 inches
The mangrove snappers are slimmer and smaller than most snapper species. Due to their high tolerance for varied salinity levels, these fish thrive in the Western Atlantic Ocean’s fresh lakes and salty waters.
The mangrove snapper species vary in color depending on age. They often have reddish-orange fins and pale, narrow bars on the body. Younger mangrove snappers feature a blue stripe and a conspicuous dark stripe on the cheek.
Scientific Name: Macolor macularis
Distribution: Great Barrier Reef, Western Australia, Western Pacific, East Indiana Ocean
Average Size: 21-24 inches
The midnight snapper is a tropical fish with a yellow-brown head with blue lines and spots. You can recognize each member of this stout-bodied fish species by its unique coloration. The juveniles are normally white and black, while the iris is yellow.
The snappers have very long, slender pelvic fins. Their soft and spinous dorsal fin portions are deeply divided. These fishes are almost always in groups near a shelter, such as caves on a drop-off or a large coral head.
Scientific Name: Lutjanus analis
Distribution: Caribbean Sea, Bahamas, Florida, Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, Massachusetts
Average Size: 20-30 inches
Mutton snappers are generally very colorful and love rocky reefs. The snapper’s notable unique feature is its two-color phases. It is plain when swimming but changes to barred while resting. You can easily confuse a mutton snapper with a lane snapper. The main difference is in the fin color; mutton’s fins are red. Mutton snappers also feature blue stripes below their eyes and a unique black spot on their upper back.
Scientific Name: Ellis oculatus
Distribution: Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of Atlantic
Average Size: 29-36 inches
The queen snappers are among the deepest living snappers in Florida. They hardly show up above 300 feet. They’re sleek, long-bodied fish that look quite different from other members of the Lutjanidae family. They have long fins and an extending, trailing tail for their size. Queen snappers have outlandish looks, which suggest their habitat. This 29-inch fish only weighs a few pounds. As they’re a delicious food source, anglers target them a lot.
Scientific Name: Symphorichthys spilurus
Distribution: New Caledonia, Philippines, Micronesia, Indonesia, Great Barrier Reef
Average Size: 19-24 inches
The sailfin snapper is also known as the spot tail threadfin snapper. It has a deep body with long anal and dorsal fins. A sailfin’s coloration is yellow with blue stripes along the sides, two orange bars running vertically behind the head and over the eyes, and a dark spot on the back of the tail. Sailfin snappers’ common habitats are sandy areas near coral reefs at depths of 5 to 60 meters. They mainly feed on mollusks, bottom-dwelling crustaceans, and small fishes.
Scientific Name: Lutjanus apodus
Distribution: Brazil, Trinidad, Massachusetts
Average Size: 12-22 inches
The schoolmaster snapper is a marine fish native to Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s easily found in shallow, clear, warm coastal waters over rocks and coral reefs to depths of approximately 200 feet. They’re the most abundant snapper species in the West Indies waters.
The schoolmaster snappers aren’t ideal for food as reports have emerged that they cause ciguatera poisoning. Whereas the young schoolmaster snappers love entering the brackish water, their juvenile counterparts reside over muddy bottoms of mangrove areas and lagoons over sandy bottoms.
Scientific Name: Lutjanus vivanus
Distribution: São Paulo, Brazil, Bermuda, North Carolina
Average Size: 17-32 inches
Silk snappers are most common in South Florida. They grow very small, with most catches between 5 pounds and 20 inches. Similar to the red snappers, these fish have pinkish-red coloration.
Whereas the red snappers’ eyes take the same pinkish-red body color, the silk snappers have distinguishable yellow eyes. The silk snappers live in structures and reefs in very deep waters to the depth of 400 to 600 feet. This depth saves them from frequent targeting by anglers.
Scientific Name: Rhomboplites aurorubens
Distribution: West Indie, Brazil, Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda, North Carolina, Cape Hatteras
Average Size: 14-24 inches
The vermillion snappers, also known as the Mingo, are quite similar to the red snappers. They have horizontal yellow-gold streaks, an orange-red top, and a pale to silvery-white bottom.
These snappers greatly love the tropical Western Atlantic waters, and their perfect homes are the irregular reef-like bottoms. The vermillion snappers’ main distinguishing feature is their rosy-red back. Additionally, their belly is much lighter and features irregular lines running on the side.
Scientific Name: Ocyurus chrysurus
Distribution: Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda, Brazil, Massachusetts
Average Size: 11-15 inches
Yellowtail snappers love tropical waters. Their broad, yellow stripes running from the nose to the tail make them relatively easy to recognize.
These snappers’ distinguishing features include narrow yellow and pink stripes on the lower sides and belly, yellow spots on the upper sides, and olive to bluish back.
This abundant snapper species is native to the western Atlantic Ocean, including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. They’re common among reefs and other structures and are typically caught at depths between 30 and 120 feet.