Identity and distribution of southern African sciaenid fish species of the genus Umbrina

  • K Hutchings Department of Zoology and Marine Biology Research Institute, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa
  • M H Griffiths Formerly Marine and Coastal Management, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Private Bag X2, Rogge Bay 8012, South Africa; now Ministry of Fisheries, PO Box 1020, Wellington, New Zealand
Keywords: distribution, habitat, morphometrics, taxonomy, <i>Umbrina</i>


Two Umbrina species, U. canariensis Valenciennes 1843 and U. robinsoni Gilchrist and Thompson 1908, are recognised from southern Africa. The latter species was hitherto believed to be a synonym of Umbrina ronchus Valenciennes 1843 (type locality Canary Islands). U. canariensis is distributed along the South Africa eastern seaboard from Cape Point to Sodwana Bay and U. robinsoni is known from False Bay to Madagascar and Oman. African Umbrina taxonomy has, however, been hindered by geographic samples that were either too few or consisted of specimens of disparate length; and as a result the identification and distribution of South African Umbrina species was confused. Morphological comparison of a large number of South African Umbrina with specimens from the type locality (Canary Islands) confirmed the identity of South African U. canariensis and allowed for an expanded description of the species. However, differences between specimens of U. ronchus and those of the second South African species (n = 251) led us to resurrect U. robinsoni (Gilchrist and Thompson 1908) as a valid name for this species. U. robinsoni differs from U. ronchus in having a smaller supraoccipital crest and thus a less steep pre-dorsal profile; a shallower preorbital bone (13–21% head length [HL] vs 21% HL); and a shorter nostril-orbit distance (2.4–6.9% HL vs 7.8–8.5% HL). Colour patterns also differ between the two species, with U. ronchus lacking the oblique, wavy, white stripes evident on the flanks of U. robinsoni. U. ronchus does not occur in South African waters, and is an eastern Atlantic species occurring from Gibraltar to Angola. Specimens from the east coast of Africa (Moçambique to Gulf of Oman) that were previously identified as U. ronchus are U. robinsoni. Differences between U. robinsoni and U. canariensis include: a lower modal number of soft dorsal fin rays, (22–27 vs 24–30); less deep body depth, (26–36% standard length [SL] vs 33–39% SL); shorter pectoral fin length (15–21% SL vs 20–25% SL); longer caudal peduncle length (26–34% SL vs 21–28% SL) and snout length (27–38% HL vs 23–32% HL); and smaller orbit diameter (14–33% HL vs 23–34% HL). Otoliths of U. robinsoni differ from those of U. canariensis in being smaller, less elongate, lacking a massive post-central umbo and having a post-dorsal spine remnant. The body colour and nature of the striping pattern on the flanks differs markedly between the species: in U. robinsoni the oblique stripes are thin, wavy, white lines; in U. canariensis the oblique stripes are thicker, nearly straight and brown; U. robinsoni also lacks the triangleshaped mark on the outer operculum and the dark pigmentation of the inner operculum that is found on U. canariensis. Spatial analysis of South African specimens collected with a variety of gear revealed U. robinsoni to be a shallow-water species found from the surf-zone to 40m, whereas U. canariensis occurs predominantly from 40 to 100m depth. Although both species occur throughout the South African eastern seaboard, U. canariensis is most common west of the Kei River, where the shelf is wider. Examination of three specimens of U. steindachneri Cadenat 1950 confirmed the presence of a fourth sub-Saharan Umbrina species that is limited to tropical West African waters from Senegal to Angola. U. steindachneri differs from the other African Umbrina in having a high number of soft dorsal rays (28–29), a greater 3rd dorsal spine length (25–27% SL) and a very pronounced and convoluted striping pattern on the flanks.

African Journal of Marine Science 2005, 27(1): 1–21

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1814-2338
print ISSN: 1814-232X