Atlantic croaker, Micropogonias undulatus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Suborder: Percoidei
Family: Sciaenidae

See text.

Sciaenidae is the family of fish commonly called drums or croakers in reference to the repetitive throbbing or drumming sounds they make. The family includes the weakfish, and consists of about 275 species in about 70 genera; it belongs to the order Perciformes.


A sciaenid has a long dorsal fin reaching nearly to the tail, and a notch between the rays and spines of the dorsal, although the two parts are actually separate.[1] Drums are somberly coloured, usually in shades of brown, with a lateral line on each side that extends to the tip of the caudal fin. The anal fin usually has two spines, while the dorsal fins are deeply notched or separate. Most species have a rounded or pointed caudal fin. The mouth is set low and is usually inferior. Their croaking mechanism involves the beating of abdominal muscles against the swim bladder.[1]

Sciaenids are found worldwide, in both fresh and salt water, and are typically benthic carnivores, feeding on invertebrates and smaller fish. They are small to medium-sized, bottom-dwelling fishes living primarily in estuaries, bays, and muddy river banks. Most of these fish types avoid clear waters, such as coral reefs and oceanic islands, with a few notable exceptions (e.g. reef croaker, high-hat, and spotted drum). They live in warm-temperate and tropical waters and are best represented in major rivers in Southeast Asia, northeast South America, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Gulf of California.[1]


They are excellent food and sport fish, and are commonly caught by surf and pier fishers. Some are important commercial fishery species, notably small yellow croaker with reported landings of 218,000–407,000 tonnes in 2000–2009; according to FAO fishery statistics, it was the 25th most important fishery species worldwide.[2] However, a large proportion of the catch is not reported at species level; in the FAO fishery statistics, the category "Croakers, drums, not elsewhere included", is the largest one within sciaenids, with annual landings of 431,000–780,000 tonnes in 2000–2009, most of which were reported from the western Indian Ocean (FAO fishing area 51) and northwest Pacific (FAO fishing area 61).[2]

Croaking mechanism

A notable trait of sciaenids is the ability to produce a "croaking" sound. However the pitch and use of croaking varies species to species. The croaking ability is a distinguishing characteristic of sciaenids.[3] The croaking mechanism is used by males as a mating call in some species.

To produce the croaking sound, special muscles vibrate against the swim bladder.[4] These muscles are called sonic muscle fibres, and run horizontally along the fish's body on both sides around the swim bladder, connected to a central tendon that surrounds the swim bladder ventrally. These sonic muscle fibres are repeatedly contracted against the swim bladder to produce the croaking sound that gives drum and croaker their common name, effectively using the swim bladder as a resonating chamber. The sciaenids' large swim bladder is more expansive and branched than other species, which aids in the croaking.[5] In some species the sonic muscle fibres are only present in males. These muscles strengthen during the mating season and are allowed to atrophy the rest of the time, deactivating the croaking mechanism.[4] In other species, most notably the Atlantic Croaker, the croaking mechanism is present in both sexes and remains active year-round. It is theorised that these species use croaking for communication purposes such as announcing hazards and location when in turbid water.[4]

Croaking in communication

In some species croaking is used for communication aside from attracting mates. For those species that have year-round croaking ability it has been suggested that the croaks serve as a low-aggression warning during group feeding as well as to communicate location in cloudy water. In those species that lack the ability to croak year-round, croaking is usually restricted to males for attracting mates. A disadvantage to the croaking ability is that it allows Bottlenose dolphin to easily locate large groups of croaker and drum as they broadcast their position, indicating large amounts of food for the dolphins.[4]

Genera and selected species

Juvenile spotted drumfish, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
Adult and juvenile spotted drumfish, St. Kitts

Timeline of genera

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sciaenidae.
Quaternary Neogene Paleogene Holocene Pleist. Miocene Oligocene Eocene Paleocene Roncador Genyonemus Seriphus (genus) Aplodinotus Sciaena Menticirrhus Cynoscion Bairdiella Sciaenops Pogonias Nebris Argyrosomus Quaternary Neogene Paleogene Holocene Pleist. Miocene Oligocene Eocene Paleocene


  1. 1 2 3 Johnson, G.D. & Gill, A.C. (1998). Paxton, J.R. & Eschmeyer, W.N., eds. Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-12-547665-5.
  2. 1 2 Template:Cite book b
  3. Ramcharitar, John; Gannon, Damon; Popper, Arthur (May 16, 2006), "BIoacoustics of Fishes of the Family Sciaenidae", Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 135 (5): 1, doi:10.1577/T05-207.1
  4. 1 2 3 4 Roach, John (November 7, 2005), Fish Croaks Like a Frog, But Why?, retrieved December 1, 2011
  5. Collin, Shaun; N. Justin Marshall (2003). Sensory processing in aquatic environments. New York: Springer-Verlag New York. ISBN 0-387-95527-5.

Further reading

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