Creature Feature: Enjoy Stargazing Above and Below the Water

With the November starry nights of the Leonid Meteor Shower (Nov. 16-18), this is the perfect time to look down at the starry flounder (Platichthys stellatus) – a flat fish found in the San Francisco Bay and part of Marine Science Institute’s teaching curriculum.

A favorite among marine and environmental educators, the starry flounder is easily identified by the youngest of students. The alternating bars of black and white-to-yellow-to-orange coloring on its dorsal, anal and caudal fins are distinct features used in identification. Patches of rough star-shaped scales (tubercles) are scattered on the eyed-side of the fish giving it its name.

A favorite among marine and environmental educators, the starry flounder is easily identified by the youngest of students. The alternating bars of black and white-to-yellow-to-orange coloring on its dorsal, anal and caudal fins are distinct features used in identification. Patches of rough star-shaped scales (tubercles) are scattered on the eyed-side of the fish giving it its name.

Like all flounders, the starry flounder, begins life as a “normal” fish swimming in a vertical position. But shortly afterwards, they begin to tilt and swim on one side. Eventually, they will move to the bottom to make their home. A sedentary fish they prefer muddy, sandy or gravel bottoms.

Once the starry flounder has moved to the benthic layer (bottom), several changes will take place. Most significantly is the migration of one of its eyes (from the side facing downward) to the other side of its head. The starry flounder belongs to the right-eyed flounder family, but it can also be left-sided. From the waters off California to the Gulf of Alaska approximately 60-70% have their eyes located on the left side of their bodies.

The downward side also loses its coloring and becomes a white-to-cream color. The side facing upward (which contains the two eyes) retains its olive to dark brown coloring. Its body structure is oval in shape with a pointed head and a small mouth.

The starry flounder is a common fish and is usually found near shore and favors estuaries, like the San Francisco Bay. Its range covers from Japan to the Bearing Sea and the Arctic Alaska, down along the California coast south to Los Angeles Harbor. Its range includes ocean, brackish and fresh water areas.

Mainly a sport fish, it is regarded as a food fish, but with moderate commercial value due to the difficulty in processing caused by the starry-shaped scales and a fatty layer. Its maximum size can reach 36 inches and weigh up to 19.8 lbs. The maximum age is 24 years for males and 17 years for females.

Happy star gazing both in the sky and in the water.

Sources: http://wdfw,wa,gov/fishing/bottomfish/identification/flatfish/p_stellatus.html

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