Quick Facts

Species Type

Native

Size

Average 18 to 20 inches, can reach 24 inches in length

Habitat

Bottom-dweller; prefers sandy or muddy areas in shallow or deep water

Range

Visits the Bay from March through October. Moves up the Bay in spring and back toward the ocean in autumn, leaving the bay in autumn and winter for warmer southern waters. Can be found throughout the Bay as far north as the Susquehanna Flats.

Diet

Bottom-feeder; feeds on bristle worms, mollusks, crustaceans and small fish

Lifespan

7 to 8 years

Conservation Status

Stable

Appearance

The Atlantic croaker has a silvery body with a pinkish glow and a silvery or brassy white belly. Brassy brown spots form faint, irregular stripes on its back and dorsal fin. It grows to about 18 to 20 inches in length, but can be as long as 24 inches. Three to five pairs of small barbels which are whisker-like sensory organs, appear on its chin. Its tail fin is slightly pointed and it has a deep notch in its dorsal fin.

Feeding

Bottom-feeders, croakers prey upon bristle worms, mollusks, crustaceans and small fish.

Predators

Larger fish such as bluefish, weakfish and striped bass prey on Atlantic croakers.

Voice

The Atlantic croaker makes a loud croaking sound.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Spawning occurs over the continental shelf in July to February, with a peak in August to October. Beginning in August, tiny young enter the Bay and travel to low-salinity and freshwater creeks. They move to deeper parts of tidal rivers for the winter. Juveniles leave the Bay with the adults the following autumn, maturing at 2 to 3 years old. Atlantic croakers can live for 7 to 8 years.

Did You Know?

  • Atlantic croakers are also called hardheads. Small croakers are called pin heads.
  • These fish are popular with recreational anglers.
  • Croaker abundance varies widely from year to year. Some years there are many croakers in the Bay, while others years there are very few.
  • Croakers are a member of the drum family, which includes spot, weakfish, red drum, black drum and spotted seatrout. All drums are able to make a loud drumming or croaking sound by vibrating their swim bladder using special muscles. Atlantic croakers are the loudest of the drums.
  • The Chesapeake Bay record Atlantic croaker, caught in August 2007 off New Point Comfort Lighthouse in Virginia, weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces and measured 27 inches long.

Sources and Additional Information