Mullets: Mugiliformes

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MULLETS: Mugiliformes



Most mullets reach about 8 inches (20 centimeters) in total length, but some may be as long as 31 to 39 inches (80 to 100 centimeters). The head is broad and flat on top. In most species, the teeth are very small or may even be absent. In many species, the teeth are on the lips. The eyes of mullets may be partially covered by fat. There is no lateral (LAT-uhr-uhl) line, a series of pores and tiny tubes along each side of the body, used for sensing vibrations. Mullets usually are grayish green or blue on the back, and the sides are silvery, often with dark stripes. The belly is pale or yellowish. Mullets have two short, well-separated dorsal (DOOR-suhl) fins and a short anal fin. The pectoral fins are high on the body, and the tail fin is slightly forked. The dorsal fin is the one along the midline of the back. The anal (AY-nuhl) fin is the one along the midline of the belly. The pectoral (PECK-ter-uhl) fins are the front pair, corresponding to the front legs of four-footed animals.


Mullets live all over the world.


Most mullets live in shallow near-shore saltwater habitats, such as bays, reef flats, tide pools, and harbor pilings and in habitats with a low salt content, such lagoons, mangrove forests, and estuaries (EHS-chew-air-eez), which are areas where rivers meet the sea. Mullets usually swim over sandy or muddy bottoms and sea grass meadows in relatively still waters. They commonly live in water depths of 66 feet (20 meters). Many species move between saltwater and the freshwater environments of rivers and flooded rice fields. Some species sometimes swim far upriver, and a few species spend their entire adult lives in rivers.


Young mullets eat plankton, which are microscopic plants and animals drifting in water. Larger mullets eat microscopic plants and animals from submerged surfaces and eat small invertebrates, or animals without backbones.


The feeding behavior of mullets follows daily cycles, which may change through the seasons according to water temperature and the availability of prey, animals hunted and caught for food. Several species form schools, particularly at night. Schooling adults may leap, especially in the evening. Mullets spawn, or release eggs, in shallow open areas or offshore, forming large schools before moving out to the spawning grounds. Some freshwater species move downstream to spawn in water with a low salt content. Others spawn upstream, and the young are swept downstream for a short time before traveling back upriver.


Mullets are important food fishes. They are both caught and farmed.


Mullets are not threatened or endangered.


Physical characteristics: Flathead mullets commonly reach a length of 14 inches (35 centimeters) from the tip of the snout to the end of the body but may reach 47 inches (120 centimeters) from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail. Fat covers a large portion of the eyes. Flathead mullets have several rows of teeth on the edges of the lips. The body is olive green on the back and silvery on the sides and belly, and there are about seven dark stripes along the sides. The pelvic fin, anal fin, and lower lobe of the tail fin are yellowish in some fish. The pelvic fins are the rear pair, corresponding to the rear legs of four-footed animals.

Geographic range: Flathead mullets live all over the world in warm water.

Habitat: Flathead mullets live in inshore marine waters, estuaries, lagoons, and rivers, usually in shallow water, rarely moving deeper than 656 feet (200 m). Adults may move far upriver.

Diet: Larvae and young flathead mullets feed on plankton.

Larvae (LAR-vee) are animals in an early stage and must change form before becoming adults. Adults feed on invertebrates and algae (AL-jee), plantlike growths that live in water and have no true roots, stems, or leaves. These fish may gulp and filter sediment, browse over submerged surfaces, or feed at the surface.

Behavior and reproduction: Adult flathead mullets form schools and sometimes jump. Adults move offshore in unorganized groups to spawn, usually at night, before returning to near-shore waters with a low salt content or freshwater. The young remain in sheltered bays, lagoons, and estuaries until they are old enough to reproduce.

Flathead mullets and people: Flathead mullets are important food fish in many parts of the world.

Conservation status: Flathead mullets are not threatened or endangered. ∎



Berra, Tim M. Freshwater Fish Distribution. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2001.

Gilbert, Carter Rowell, and James D. Williams. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Fishes: North America. New York: Knopf, 2002.

Schultz, Ken. Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Freshwater Fish. New York: Wiley, 2004.

Web sites:

"Production of Mullet Fish Larvae in UAE." Government of United Arab Emirates. (accessed on October 10, 2004).

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Mullets: Mugiliformes

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