- Head and fins have tiny dark spots
- Irregular dark bars on the sides
- Eyes are small and set forward
- Caudal and pectoral fins are rounded
- First dorsal fin is much shorter than the second dorsal fin
- Dorsal spines low; all nearly the same height
Similar Species: Warsaw grouper, H. nigritus (dorsal spines at varying heights)
Size: Up to 8 feet and 800 pounds; largest grouper species in western Atlantic waters
Coastal and nearshore waters around natural and man-made structures, or muddy bottoms. Young often occur in estuaries, especially around mangroves or manmade structures such as bridges, docks, and artificial reefs. More abundant in southern than in northern waters in Florida.
Spawn during summer months from June through October, with peak spawning taking place from July through September, and have an average lifespan thought to be 30 to 50 years.
Opportunistic predators and feed mostly on slow-moving, bottom-associated species. Calico crabs make up the majority of their diet, with other invertebrate species and fish filling in the rest. Will occasionally feed on fish that are struggling on a fishing line, but typically do not actively hunt down fast, free swimming fish, such as snappers and other grouper species. Prey is ambushed, caught by a rapid expansion and opening of the mouth which allows prey to be sucked in and swallowed whole.