A BUT­TER­FLY AMONG OYS­TERS

Sport Fishing - - FISH FACTS - — Mike Fa­hay

I grow oys­ters for a liv­ing, and came across this lit­tle fish while tend­ing my oys­ters in the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber. The fish was about the size of a dime and looked very trop­i­cal, which is odd, es­pe­cially dur­ing fall on the Cape. Any help iden­ti­fy­ing the fish would be greatly ap­pre­ci­ated. Jeff Or­cutt Or­leans, Cape Cod, Mas­sachusetts

Your fish is a very early ju­ve­nile spotfin but­ter­fly­fish, Chaetodon ocel­la­tus. Two species of but­ter­fly­fishes com­monly drift north in the Gulf Stream from more-trop­i­cal wa­ters while in a spe­cial­ized tholichthys pe­lagic-ju­ve­nile stage. Af­ter transforming to the stage ex­hib­ited by your spec­i­men, many of these mi­grate into es­tu­ar­ies along the mid-At­lantic states and set­tle into habi­tats that mimic reefs. Blocks of peat slough­ing off marsh sur­faces serve as one of these reef habi­tats. These young fish use such habi­tats as nurs­eries, grow­ing through the sum­mer to lengths of 2½ inches or more. How­ever, these faux nurs­eries prove to be sinks; with tem­per­a­tures cool­ing in fall and win­ter, the small fish suc­cumb when tem­per­a­tures reach be­low 54 de­grees Fahren­heit. Some other south­ern ju­ve­niles, how­ever, use mid-At­lantic es­tu­ar­ies as nurs­eries in which to grow and suc­cess­fully mi­grate back to more-trop­i­cal wa­ters be­fore win­ter. Jacks in the genus Caranx are an ex­am­ple.

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