Gray Snapper (Lutjanus griseus)

A member of the Lutjanidae family of snapper and important commercially, the gray snapper is a good gamefish and also an excellent food fish. It is commonly referred to as the mangrove snapper.

Other Names

mangrove snapper; French: sarde grise, vivaneau sarde grise; Portuguese: caranha, castanhola, luciano; Spanish: caballerote, pargo manglero, pargo prieto.


The coloring of the gray snapper is variable, from dark gray or dark brown to gray-green. The belly is grayish tinged with olive, bronze, or red, sometimes described as having reddish or orange spots running in rows on the lower sides.

A dark horizontal band occasionally runs from the lip through the eye, and some fish may have dark vertical bars or blotches along the sides. The tail may also have a dark margin, and the anal fin is rounded. There are two conspicuous canine teeth at the front of the upper jaw.

The gray snapper can be distinguished from the cubera snapper by the shape of the tooth patch in the mouth, which is triangular in the cubera snapper and anchor shaped in the gray snapper.


The gray snapper averages only about 1 pound, although offshore catches commonly weigh 8 to 10 pounds; it reportedly may grow to 35 inches and 25 pounds, although fish exceeding 15 pounds are rare. The all-tackle world record is a 17-pound Florida fish. The gray snapper may live up to 21 years.

Life history/Behavior

When gray snapper reach age 3 or older and a length of about 9 inches, they begin to spawn, usually at dusk in shallow water during full moon phases and between June and August. The female is courted by one or many males, and fertilized eggs settle to the bottom and remain unattended until they hatch. Gray snapper drift in small schools.

Food and feeding habits

Gray snapper feed primarily at night, leaving reefs late in the day for grassflats, where they consume plankton, small fish, shrimp, and crabs.


In the western Atlantic, gray snapper extend from Massachusetts to Rio de Janeiro, occurring throughout the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and Bermuda. Although rare north of Florida, they are common off southeastern Florida and around the Antilles.


Young gray snapper are mostly found inshore over smooth bottoms in such places as estuaries, the lower reaches of tidal creeks, mangroves, and seagrass meadows; adult fish generally range offshore over irregular bottoms in such places as coral or rocky reefs, rock outcroppings, and shipwrecks, to depths of about 300 feet.