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Winter Flounder

Pleuronectes americanus

During colder months, the winter flounder can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay. Come summer, the flatfish retreats to deeper waters or migrates offshore. (Eric Heupel/Flickr)
During colder months, the winter flounder can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay. Come summer, the flatfish retreats to deeper waters or migrates offshore. (Eric Heupel/Flickr)

Also known as the black back, the winter flounder is a sizeable flatfish whose small head and mouth are located on the right side of its body. Well-adapted to living on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, the winter flounder is a common find and popular catch during colder months.

Appearance:

The winter flounder's flat, elliptical body bears small head and mouth on right side, making it a "rightside flatfish." Its distinct pectoral fin is present just behind the gill opening, and it has a separate small pelvic fin present on its belly. Adults can reach two feet in length and six pounds in weight, although inshore specimens (like those found in the Chesapeake Bay) are often eight to 16 inches. The color pattern of the "dark side" (the side of the fish that faces up) can change depending on the color and pattern of the surrounding substrate, ranging from reddish brown to olive green to almost black. Its underside is white. It has small teeth present on the left side of each jaw.

Habitat:

Most often found on muddy or vegetated bottoms; young are common in shallow waters in summer.

Range:

Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay; less common during summer months, when it retreats to deeper waters or migrates offshore. Range extends from Labrador, Canada, to Georgia. 

Feeding:

Its flat body allows it to lie half-buried in bottom sands or silts, dark side up, alert for passing prey. It feeds on small crustaceans and worms.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Spawning occurs in nearshore and estuarine waters from late winter to early spring. 

Other Facts:

  • A valuable food fish in the twentieth century, the winter flounder remains a popular commercial and recreational catch 

Sources and Additional Information:

  • Life in the Chesapeake Bay by Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson
  • Fishes of Chesapeake Bay by Edward O. Murdy, Ray S. Birdsong and John A. Musick 
  • Winter Flounder – Maine Department of Marine Resources 



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