Text Size: A  A  A

Tautog

Tautoga onitis

Tautogs vary in color from brown to grayish or black with irregular bars or blotches on the sides. (Virginia Institute of Marine Science)
{photos} {photo} {title} - {description} {/photo} {/photos}
Tautogs vary in color from brown to grayish or black with irregular bars or blotches on the sides. (Virginia Institute of Marine Science)

The tautog is a stout, mottled fish with a thick tail and strong teeth. It can be found year-round around wrecks, reefs and pilings near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Appearance:

  • Stout, rounded body
  • Varies in color from brown to grayish or black with irregular bars or blotches on the sides
  • Blunt head with greenish eyes and thick lips
  • Strong teeth
  • Females and small males have a black chin. Some larger males have a white chin.
  • Long dorsal fin with about 16 spines
  • Thick, squared tail fin
  • Grows to about 12 inches long

Habitat:

  • Usually found around wrecks, reefs, rocks and pilings

Range:

  • Found year-round near the Chesapeake Bay’s mouth
  • Common in parts of the lower Bay from autumn through spring
  • May be found as far north as the Chester River
  • Moves offshore in summer

Feeding:

  • Eats clams, crabs, mussels, barnacles and other shellfish
  • Uses its powerful teeth to crush its prey’s shells
  • Only feeds during the day

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawns from late April-early August in the lower Bay and offshore
  • The female lays about 200,000 eggs
  • After hatching, bright green tautog larvae drift for about three weeks before settling in shallow bay grass beds
  • In about 3 years, tautogs become sexually mature and lose their bright green coloring
  • Can live 34 years

Other Facts:

  • Also known as blackfish in northern bays, where it is much more abundant
  • When they are not feeding, tautogs are known to find a hole and lie motionless on their side. The fish are so inactive at night that sport divers have been able to catch them by hand.
  • The Maryland Chesapeake Bay record tautog, which was caught in October 2005 off Point Lookout, was 25 inches long and weighed 9 pounds.

Sources and Additional Information:

  • Fishes of Chesapeake Bay by Edward O. Murdy, Ray S. Birdsong and John A. Musick
  • Life in the Chesapeake Bay by Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson
  • Tautog – Gulf of Maine Research Institute

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved