Pirate Perch

Scientific Name: Aphredoderus sayanus

Classification: Nongame Fish
Abundance: Common in NC

     

The pirate perch is a small, common fish found through the eastern half of the state, often inhabiting sluggish waterways that many other fish species cannot tolerate such as roadside ditches and backwater areas..  It is the only living species of the family Aphredoderidae.  Part of its scientific name is derived from a physical characteristic: the peculiar location of its urogenital opening in the throat area.  Aphrod means “excrement,” and dere means “throat.” 

*There is a fact sheet for this species but I cannot find a link for it online.

Description
The pirate perch is a small, stout-bodied fish that reaches a maximum length of about 5 ½  inches. Relative to its overall size, the pirate perch has a large mouth and head. Its color varies from a drab chocolate brown to slate gray or black, with some individuals exhibiting a pink or purple iridescence on their sides.  Likewise, some individuals have a black vertical bar beneath each eye, and some exhibit a similar bar at the base of the tail. The pirate perch has a single dorsal fin and a single anal fin, both with two to three spines. Its most noticeable characteristic is the location of the urogenital opening. When this fish is a juvenile, its opening is located just behind the anal fin.  But the opening migrates to the throat area by the late juvenile or early adult stage. 

Distribution
All counties within the Coastal Plain and extending into the central portion of the Piedmont.  The pirate perch is widespread across the low areas of the Atlantic and Gulf slopes and the lower Mississippi Valley drainages.

Habitat Preferences
This species commonly occurs in swamps, ditches, backwater areas, ponds and lakes, and small streams.  It also occurs in large streams and rivers, but is typically restricted to the edges of these flowing waterways. Regardless of the type of water it inhabits, the pirate perch occurs in areas of slow flow. It prefers abundant cover and soft bottoms. This fish can inhabit clear, tannic and turbid waters, and neutral to acidic waters.

Life History
The pirate perch typically hides in dense vegetation or bottom debris during the day and feeds at night or during periods of dim light. Its diet consists mainly of aquatic insects and crustaceans with other invertebrates and small fish being consumed as well.  The spawning period for the pirate perch is typically early spring, but this varies depending on the location. In North Carolina, the spawning period has been observed from January through March. The pirate perch reaches sexually maturity by the end of its first year and reproduces once a year.  Adults spawn in groups in sheltered pockets among underwater root masses, entering the pocket headfirst to deposit eggs and sperm through their mouth from their specially located urogenital opening.  A male who successfully fertilizes a group of eggs will then plug the pocket with his body to prevent a competing male from fertilizing the eggs.  The females may form these pockets or simply use found burrows of aquatic macroinvertebrates or salamanders. After hatching, the young grow rapidly and can reach 2 inches in length by the end of their first year.  Adults have been observed guarding the young as they swim in “pods,” a habit similar to that of bullhead catfish.  The maximum life span for the pirate perch is about 4 years.