Naturalist Fact: Flounder

There are two species of flounder that are commonly found in the tidal creeks and off the shore of Little St. Simons Island, the summer flounder and southern flounder. Both are members of the left-eyed flounder family Paralichthyidae. Summer flounder can be distinguished from the southern flounder by the presence of 5 to 14 eye-like spots called ocelli. Like most members of the left-eye flounders, they can change the color and pattern of their dark side to match the surrounding bottom, and are also capable of rapidly burrowing into muddy or sandy bottoms. Flounder lay buried with only their head exposed to ambush prey which includes many species of fish, squid, shrimp, and crabs. A small body cavity and the absence of an air bladder aid the fish in maintaining its position on the bottom. While primarily considered a bottom fish, they are rapid swimmers over short distances and can become very aggressive, feeding actively at middepths, even chasing prey to the surface. Flounder have a fascinating life history as well. After hatching, the larval fish swim in an upright position and the eyes are located on opposite sides of the head. As the young fish grows, the right eye begins to “migrate” to the left side of the head. When body length of about one-half inch has been attained, the eye migration is complete and the fish assumes its left-side-up position for life. Flounder migrate inshore and offshore seasonally in response to changes in water temperature. During winter and early spring, they are found offshore along the outer edge of the continental shelf where spawning occurs, but in late spring and early summer, they move inshore and concentrate in shallow coastal waters and estuaries. Flounder are considered to be a very important species along the Atlantic coast as it is important to both the commercial fishing industry and very popular for recreational fishing.

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