drum fish

drum fish facts

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Drum fish live up to their name by making very loud, repetitive, throbbing sounds that help them communicate with other animals.

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This fish is mainly endemic to brackish waters, but there are also a few species that live only in freshwater rivers and lakes. They are a very popular fish for both recreational and commercial purposes.

3 Unbelievable Facts!

  • Drum fish are also known as drums or croakers because of the sound they make with their swim bladders.
  • Drum fish are regulars in many aquariums around the world.
  • Some species have whisker vibrissae, such as catfish, which they use to sense their surroundings.

scientific name

The drum fish is a member of the catfish family, which is derived from the Latin name "sciaena" for marine fish. (Sciaena is also the name of a specific genus in the Sciaenidae.)

The entire family belongs to the order of ray-finned fishes called Perciformes , which is characterized by the familiar perch, sunfish, grouper and snapper. It is the largest vertebrate order in the world. However, some biologists place drumfish in the order Acanthidae , and there is some debate over the classification.


Spotted Drumfish or Spotted Hairtail (Equetus punctatus) Bonaire, Leeward Islands
The spotted drum fish is one of more than 275 species of drum fish in the Totoaba family.

© Jesus Cobaleda/Shutterstock.com

The drumfish family includes approximately 275 (possibly as many as 300) species, depending on who is being counted. Here are just a few of them:

  • Red Drum: Also known as the Channel Perch, this species is endemic to the Atlantic Ocean between Massachusetts and the Gulf of Mexico. Although the color is red and white, there are also black markings on the tail.
  • California corbina: Also known as the California kingfish or kingfish, this species actually lacks the swim bladder that makes the croaking sound.
  • Common Weak Fish: Known by the Native American name Squeteague, this endangered species inhabits the Atlantic Ocean along the east coast of the United States. Other types of weaklings include smooth weaklings, small-toothed weaklings, and small toothed weaklings, all of which are listed as least of concern.
  • Totuava: The totuava or totoaba is the largest drum fish in the world. This rare species lives in the Gulf of California near Mexico.
  • Freshwater Drumfish: This is the only drumfish species in North America (stretching from Hudson Bay to Guatemala) that lives its entire life in freshwater rivers or lakes.
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The drumfish is a fairly standard-looking ray-finned fish with a long, round body, a groove or notch between the ray and the spine, and two dorsal fins running along the back. Most drumfish have small mouths, jaws, and teeth, but a few specific species have larger mouths, prominent jaws, and sharp canines. Silver is the predominant color, but many other species also come in various reds, browns, blacks, and whites.

By far the most important and distinctive feature of this family is a large muscle in the swim bladder. When it moves this muscle, the fish can greatly amplify the sound, producing the loud rattling or crackling sound that gives it its name. The function of this sound is to attract mates during the breeding season, which means that in some species, this ability is only present in males.

A fisherman holds a giant black drumfish (Pogonias cromis) into the sea. Texas, Gulf of Mexico, USA
A fisherman holds a giant black drumfish (Pogonias cromis), one of the largest drumfish, weighing 30-90 lbs.


In other species, drumming also serves a secondary purpose, as a warning or location call throughout the year. Each species can be identified by the distinctive sound it "vocalizes". Although this is considered a defining characteristic of drumfish, some species, such as the aforementioned California corbina, lack this ability entirely.

Drum fish come in a variety of sizes, but are typically no more than a few feet long and weigh up to 60 pounds. The largest species is the truly gigantic 225-pound totuava in the Gulf of California. Saltwater fish tend to be larger than freshwater fish.

Distribution, Population and Habitat

Freshwater drums are large freshwater fish
Freshwater drums are one of the few types of drums found in freshwater lakes and rivers.

©Roxana Gonzalez/Shutterstock.com

Drum fish are endemic to tropical and temperate saltwater regions around the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. The most favorable locations are in bays and estuaries near the coast. Some species inhabit freshwater lakes and rivers partly or completely throughout the year. Population numbers vary by species. One of the most common species, the red drum, appears to be in stable and good health despite its popularity in commercial fishing. Most species are the least of environmentalists' concerns, but not every species is so lucky. The aforementioned totuava is critically endangered.

predator and prey

Predators of drumfish include large fish, seabirds, and humans. Drumfish are sometimes threatened by habitat loss from overfishing, poaching, dams and water diversion.

The drum fish is a bottom-dwelling fish that feeds on crustaceans, mussels, insects, and other fish at the bottom of oceans, rivers, or lakes. Some species have large canines that help them break through the tough exterior of crabs and other shelled prey.

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Reproduction and Lifespan

Many aspects of drumfish reproduction, including spawning season and gestation period, vary from species to species. The most common breeding season occurs in shallow water in summer or fall. Males use their distinctive vocalizations to attract suitable mates. After mating, a female can lay thousands or even millions of eggs at a time. The male then fertilizes the eggs with his sperm.

Red drum fish, Redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) on white background
The red drum or redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) spawning season runs from August to October and usually lasts 8 to 9 weeks.


The larvae emerge from the eggs within a few days, are no more than a few millimeters in size, and develop into mature individuals within a few years. Life expectancy varies by species. The average lifespan of a freshwater drum is 6 to 13 years, but some saltwater species can live as long as 50 years in the wild. More extreme ages were also recorded.

fishing and cooking

Drum fish are a common catch for both commercial and recreational purposes. Recreational anglers can find these fish in the surf or around the pier. Commercial fishermen use nets to catch large numbers of fish in more open waters. According to the United Nations, the drum was at one point the 25th most caught fish in the world.

The meat of drum fish is sometimes described as mild and delicate, with a slightly sweet taste. Saltwater species are caught and eaten more often than freshwater species. In fact, fish connoisseurs often complain about the poor taste of freshwater drumfish. The meat can be grilled, boiled or sautéed, and the subtle flavor pairs well with many different seasonings, herbs and vegetables.

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Drum Fish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is drum fish?

The drum fish is a ray-finned fish that communicates with others by rattling or crackling. Unless you know what you're looking for, it can be difficult to spot this fish by its appearance alone. It doesn't have many notable external features.

Is the drum fish a carp?

Drum fish and carp are not the same fish. Carp is a freshwater fish of the Cyprinidae family. It belongs to a completely different order (albeit the same group of ray-finned fishes). The confusion may have been because some freshwater buckets were mistaken for carp.

Why is it called drum fish?

The name comes from the sound they make with specialized muscles for communication purposes. This rattling sound is produced by the vibration of the muscles against the swim bladder, somewhat like a drum; hence the name.

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Is the drum fish a benthic animal?

Yes, drumfish spend most of their time in the benthic zone. This is the lowest water level in any body of water, including oceans, oceans, rivers and lakes. They eat small animals that live on the floor. Some species have large mouths, powerful jaws, and sharp teeth for eating hard-shelled animals.

Is drum fish edible?

Yes, drumfish are very edible creatures, but saltwater drumfish are generally more popular than freshwater drumfish. The freshwater drum is considered a "rough fish" by many fishermen, meaning it's not very good for catching or eating.

Are drum fish herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Drum fish are carnivores, which means they eat other animals.

To which kingdom does the drum fish belong?

Drum fish belong to the animal kingdom.

What door does the drum fish belong to?

Drum fish belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category does the drum fish belong to?

Drum Fish belongs to the class Actinopterygii.

What family do drum fish belong to?

Drum fish belong to the catfish family.

What order do drum fish belong to?

Drum fish belong to the order Perciformes.

What type of mulch does Drum Fish have?

Drum fish are covered with scales.

Who are the natural enemies of drum fish?

Predators of drumfish include birds, fish, and humans.

What type of habitat do drum fish live in?

Drum fish live in rivers, lakes, estuaries and bays.

What is the scientific name of drum fish?

The scientific name of Drum Fish is Sciaenidae.

What is the lifespan of drum fish?

Drum Fish can live up to 50 years.

How many kinds of drum fish are there?

There are 275 species of drum fish.

What are the distinguishing features of drum fish?

The drum fish rattled.

What is the biggest threat to drumfish?

The biggest threat to Drum Fish is habitat change.

What is another name for drum fish?

Drum fish is also known as drum or yellow croaker.

How many drum fish are left in the world?

The population size of Drum Fish is unknown.

Any interesting facts about Drum Fish?

The swim bladder of the drum fish makes a rattling sound!

How do drum fish give birth?

Drum fish spawn.

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  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/drum-fish
  2. Sea Fish, available here: https://www.seafishpool.com/sciaenidae-drums-croakers/