Temporal range: Early Eocene to present[1]
Sphyraena barracuda with prey
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Istiophoriformes
Family: Sphyraenidae
Rafinesque, 1815
Genus: Sphyraena
J. T. Klein, 1778
Type species
Sphyraena sphyraena
  • Sphyrena Artedi, 1793 (Missp.)
  • Acus Plumier in Lacépède, 1803 (Unav.)
  • Sphyroena Duméril, 1805 (Missp.)
  • Sphaerina Swainson, 1839 (Missp.)
  • Sphraena De Kay, 1842 (Missp.)
  • Agrioposphyraena Fowler, 1903
  • Australuzza Whitley, 1947
  • Callosphyraena Smith, 1956
  • Indosphyraena Smith, 1956
  • Sphyraenella Smith, 1956

A barracuda is a large, predatory, ray-finned fish known for its fearsome appearance and ferocious behaviour. The barracuda is a saltwater fish of the genus Sphyraena, the only genus in the family Sphyraenidae, which was named by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1815.[2] It is found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide ranging from the eastern border of the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, on its western border the Caribbean Sea, and in tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean. Barracudas reside near the top of the water and near coral reefs and sea grasses.[3] Barracudas are targeted by sport-fishing enthusiasts.


The common name "barracuda" is derived from Spanish, with the original word being of possibly Cariban origin.[4]


Photo of barracuda with coral swimming above coral
Great barracuda hovering in the current at the Paradise Reef, Cozumel, Mexico

Barracuda are snake-like in appearance, with prominent, sharp-edged, fang-like teeth, much like piranha, all of different sizes, set in sockets of their large jaws. They have large, pointed heads with an underbite in many species. Their gill covers have no spines and are covered with small scales. Their two dorsal fins are widely separated, with the anterior fin having five spines, and the posterior fin having one spine and nine soft rays. The posterior dorsal fin is similar in size to the anal fin and is situated above it. The lateral line is prominent and extends straight from head to tail. The spinous dorsal fin is placed above the pelvic fins and is normally retracted in a groove. The caudal fin is moderately forked with its posterior edge double-curved and is set at the end of a stout peduncle. The pectoral fins are placed low on the sides. The swim bladder is large, allowing for minimal energy expenditure while cruising or remaining idle.[5]

In most cases, barracuda are dark gray, dark green, white, or blue on the upper body, with silvery sides and a chalky-white belly. Coloration varies somewhat between species. For some species, irregular black spots or a row of darker cross-bars occur on each side. Their fins may be yellowish or dusky. Barracudas live primarily in oceans, but certain species, such as the great barracuda, live in brackish water. Due to similarities, sometimes Barracuda is compared with freshwater pike, though the major difference between the two is that Barracuda has two separate dorsal fins with a forked tail, unlike the freshwater pike.[6]

Some species grow quite large (up to 65 inches or 165 cm in length),[7] such as Sphyraena sphyraena, found in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic; Sphyraena picudilla, ranging on the Atlantic coast of tropical America from North Carolina to Brazil and reaching Bermuda. Other barracuda species are found around the world. Examples are Sphyraena argentea, found from Puget Sound southwards to Cabo San Lucas, Sphyraena jello, from the seas of India and the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago.


The barracuda genus Sphyraena contains 29 species:[8]

Sphyraena bolcensis, the earliest known fossil barracuda

The following fossil species are also known:[11]

A related fossil genus, Parasphyraena, is known from the Miocene of Azerbaijan.[11]

Behavior and diet

Barracudas are ferocious, opportunistic predators, relying on surprise and short bursts of speed, up to 27 mph (43 km/h),[13] to overtake their prey.

Adults of most species are more or less solitary, while young and half-grown fish frequently congregate.

Barracudas prey primarily on fish (which may include some as large as themselves). Common prey fish include jacks, grunts, groupers, snappers, small tunas, mullets, killifishes, herrings, and anchovies; often by simply biting them in half.[14] They kill and consume larger prey by tearing chunks out of their prey. They also seem to consume smaller species of sustenance that are in front of them. Barracuda species are often seen competing against mackerel, needle fish and sometimes even dolphins for prey.[3]

Barracudas are usually found swimming in saltwater searching for schools of plankton-feeding fish. Their silver and elongated bodies make them difficult for prey to detect, especially when viewed head-on. Barracudas depend heavily on their eyesight when they are out hunting. When hunting, they tend to notice everything that has an unusual color, reflection, or movement. Once a barracuda targets an intended prey item, its long tail and matching anal and dorsal fins enable it to move with swift bursts of speed to attack its prey before it can escape. Barracudas generally attack schools of fish, speeding at them head first and biting at them with their jaws. When barracudas age, they tend to swim alone. However, there are times when they tend to stay with the pack. Barracudas will sometimes swim in groups. In this case, they can relocate schools of fish into compact areas or lead them into shallow water to more easily feed on them.[citation needed]

Interactions with humans

Some species of barracuda are reputed to be dangerous to swimmers. Barracudas are scavengers, and may mistake snorkelers for large predators, following them hoping to eat the remains of their prey. Swimmers have reported being bitten by barracudas, but such incidents are rare and possibly caused by poor visibility. Large barracudas can be encountered in muddy shallows on rare occasion. Barracudas may mistake things that glint and shine for prey.[15] One incident reported a barracuda jumping out of water and injuring a kayaker,[16] but Jason Schratwieser, conservation director of the International Game Fish Association, said that the wound could have been caused by a houndfish.[17] Fatalities are nevertheless rare. Deaths have been reported in 1947, 1957 and 1960 in Florida. [18]

As food

Barracudas are popular both as food and game fish. They are most often eaten as fillets or steaks. Larger species, such as the great barracuda, have been implicated in cases of ciguatera food poisoning.[19] Those who have been diagnosed with this type of food poisoning display symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort, limb weakness, and an inability to differentiate hot from cold effectively.[14]

West Africans smoke them for use in soups and sauces. Smoking protects the soft flesh from disintegrating in the broth and gives it a smoky flavour.



  1. ^ Sepkoski, J. (2002). "A compendium of fossil marine animal genera". Bulletins of American Paleontology. 363: 1–560. Archived from the original on 2011-07-23.
  2. ^ N. Bailly (2015). "Sphyraenidae Rafinesque, 1810". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b Millburn, N. "The Great Barracuda's Diet". Animals - PawNation. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03.
  4. ^ "barracuda | Origin and meaning of barracuda by Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2021-06-05.
  5. ^ "Barracuda | fish". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  6. ^ Davis, Buddy; Davis, Kay (2006). Sensational Sea Creatures. New Leaf Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-89051-458-0.
  7. ^ Fischer, W. (1987). Guide Fao d'Identification des Espèces pour les Besoins de la Pêche Volume 2: Vertébrés. Rome: Laboratoire d’Ichtyologie générale et appliquée Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. pp.
  8. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2021). Species of Sphyraena in FishBase. August 2021 version.
  9. ^ Abdussamad, E.M.; Retheesh, T.B.; Thangaraja, R.; Bineesh, K.K.; Prakashan, D. (2015). "Sphyraena arabiansis a new species of barracuda (Family: Sphyraenidae) from the south-west coast of India". Indian Journal of Fisheries. 62 (2): 1–6.
  10. ^ Pastore, M.A. (2009). "Sphyraena intermedia sp. nov. (Pisces: Sphyraenidae): a potential new species of barracuda identified from the central Mediterranean Sea". Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 89 (6): 1299–1303. doi:10.1017/s0025315409000575. S2CID 83523327.
  11. ^ a b Ballen, Gustavo A. (2019-10-16). "Nomenclature of the Sphyraenidae (Teleostei: Carangaria): A synthesis of fossil- and extant-based classification systems". Zootaxa. 4686 (3): 397–408. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4686.3.5. ISSN 1175-5334.
  12. ^ Tao, Hsi-Jen (1993-06-30). "A New Miocene Fossil Fish Sphyraena tsengi (Pisces: Perciformes) from Taiwan". 臺灣省立博物館半年刊. 46 (1): 27–41. doi:10.6532/JTM.199306_46(1).0004.
  13. ^ Martin, R.A. "What's the Speediest Marine Creature?". ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research.
  14. ^ a b "Barracuda Fish Facts". AtlanticPanic.
  15. ^ Bester, C. "Great barracuda". Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department. Archived from the original on 2016-01-26. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  16. ^ Fletcher, p. (2010). Marshall, J. (ed.). "Jumping barracuda injures kayaker off Florida Keys". Reuters.
  17. ^ Fleshler, D.; Ortega, J. (2010). "Leaping fish punctures lung of woman kayaking in Keys". Sun Sentinel. Archived from the original on 2014-04-14. Retrieved 2014-04-13.
  18. ^,Pompano%20Beach%2C%20Florida%20in%201960.
  19. ^ "Hazard, Market, Geographic and Nomenclature Information for Great Barracuda". Regulatory Fish Encyclopedia (RFE). U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 2002. Archived from the original on 2003-02-26.