Tomtate (Haemulon aurolineatum)

The tomtate is the widest-ranging member of the grunts, a small species and one that is fairly tolerant of colder water. It is not often caught by anglers, but it is important as a forage fish for larger species and may be used as bait.

Other Names

tomtate grunt; Spanish: ronco jeníguano.


Slim-bodied, the tomtate is silver-white overall and has a yellow-brown stripe along the length of its body, ending in a dark blotch on the caudal peduncle. The pelvic and the anal fins are yellowish. The inside of the mouth is red. It has 13 dorsal spines and 14 to 15 dorsal rays, 9 anal rays, and 17 to 18 pectoral rays.


The maximum length is 10 inches but seldom exceeds 8 inches. Tomtate are reported to live up to 9 years.


Like other grunts, this species is a schooling fish often found in large groups around natural and artificial reefs. Fish are sexually mature at about 5.5 inches, and spawning takes place in the southeastern United States in the spring.

Food and feeding habits

Tomtate are bottom feeders that forage on worms, snails, shrimp, crabs, and amphipods; they are, in turn, food for various snapper, grouper, and mackerel.


The tomtate exists in the Western Atlantic from Massachusetts and Bermuda to Brazil, including the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.


Tomtate prefer shallower water, from nearshore to outer reef areas, and rocky and sandy bottoms. Schools are commonly seen congregated around piers or docks.