Vertebrate fauna of SE Asia


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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024








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Order : Mugiliformes
Species : Globally more than 70 species in 17 genera.
Maximum Length : different species range in length from 6 cm to over 80 cm.

Mullets (or 'grey mullets') are surface dwelling fish, occurring predominantly in shallow coastal habitats, such as reefs, estuaries and mangrove. Some species are attracted to man-made structures such as boat jetties and marinas.

Globally more than 70 species are recognised from 17 genera, although most are from just two genera - Liza and Mugil. Large species of mullet can grow to over 80 cm long, but most are smaller reaching 10 to 30 cm in size. Typically they occur in large shoals when young, but larger specimens become more solitary.

Mullets are plain-coloured, typically with silvery flanks and dark grey to greenish dorsums. Faint lateral stripes may sometimes be present. They are strong swimmers: their bodies are elongate and torpedo-shaped. Their tail fins are squarish to moderately forked, and there are always two separate dorsal fins.

Their mouths are small, and they feed on organic or algal detritus which is either taken from the surface, or is sifted from sandy or muddy substrates. They tend to advance into shallow waters with the rising tide, sometimes congregating at the mouths of small freshwater streams which discharge into mangrove areas.

Mullets occur worldwide, in both tropical and temperate seas. At least 20 species are likely to occur in Southeast Asia including the Squaretail Mullet Ellochelon vaigiensis.

Fig 1 : A trio of mullets (possibly the Greenback Mullet Liza subviridis), measuring around 15 cm, photographed at high tide in a shallow mangrove inlet at Sungei Pandan, Singapore.

Fig 2 : Flooded mangrove forest at high tide, at Sungei Pandan, Singapore : mullets will follow the rising tide into shallow waters to feed.

Fig 3 : A group of mullet, measuring around 8 cm, stranded in a back-mangrove pool during low tide at Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo. The fish at bottom left is sifting detritus from the substrate.

Fig 4 : A shoal group of mullet fry, in a mangrove inlet at Langkawi, Peninsular Malaysia

Fig 5 : A group of mullet at Sungei Buloh, Singapore.

Fig 6 : A mullet leaps from the water at Sungei Buloh, Singapore: this is tentatively a Flathead Grey Mullet Mugil cephalus, a species which is locally reared in floating fish farms and has established a feral population in the area.

References : F3, F4