Barracudas are intimidating in their appearance. They resemble pike and are indeed, called the “Ocean Pike”. Aggressive hunters, preying on smaller fish, they kill their prey by tearing pieces out them. They also scavenge for food. Typically they will hunt in groups called “batteries”. Barracudas have long, sharp teeth and in that respect, they resemble piranhas. Their teeth are set deep into their jaw sockets and many Barracuda species have an under-bite. The Barracuda has a slender, streamlined body that is round in the mid-section. The top of the head between the eyes is nearly flat and the mouth is large, containing many large sharp teeth and a projecting lower jaw. The pectoral fin tips extend to the origin of the pelvic fins. The spinous and soft dorsal fins are widely separated and the double emarginate tail fin exhibits pale tips on each lobe. Body coloration of the Barracuda is brownish or bluish gray on the dorsum and upper side, with a greenish cast shading to silvery on the sides and a white belly. The upper side may have 18-23 dark bars most often observable when the fish is resting or over a variegated substrate. The black spots on the lower sides of the Barracuda distinguish it. The second dorsal fin, anal and caudal fins are violet to black with whitish tips. Young Barracuda exhibit pale reticulations on the dorsum and a dark stripe on either side that breaks into spots as the fish grows. These patterns are somewhat ephemeral though as juveniles can alter their color patterns to closely match that of their surroundings. These changes in coloration serve to camouflage the fish from predators as well as well as wary prey. Adults have similar coloration along with a more silvery appearance that is advantageous to a fish that swims near the surface of the water. Barracuda commonly occur in nearshore coral reefs, sea-grasses and mangroves. They may also reside in the open ocean, living predominantly at or near the surface, although they are at times found at depths to 325 feet (100 meters).
Barracudas tend to be solitary but are sometimes found in small aggregations over reefs and sandy bottoms. Juveniles mature among mangroves and sea-grass beds, habitats that offer cover from predators. During the second year of life, Barracuda move to deeper reef habitats. Juveniles and some adults have been observed in areas that receive high amounts of freshwater input, however adults generally tend to avoid areas of brackish water. Barracudas feed on an array of prey including fishes such as jacks, grunts, groupers, snappers, small tunas, mullets, herrings and anchovies. Barracudas have a large gape and very sharp teeth, enabling them to feed on large fishes by chopping them in half. An opportunistic predator, Barracuda feed throughout the water column. Generally a diurnal fish, Barracuda locate their prey largely by sight. The body plan of the Barracuda is designed for speed and it is estimated that top speed for the species may be as fast as 36 mph (58 kph). Although not prized as a commercial fish in North American waters, the Barracuda puts up a good fight and is therefore esteemed by some anglers as a game fish. They may be caught with a variety of gear including hand-lines, rod and reel, seines, trammel nets and gill nets. Barracuda are large fish. The record for a hook and line caught is 1.7 meters (5.5 feet), 44 kilograms (103 pounds) and the species is reported to attain a size of 2 meters, 50 kilograms. Any Barracuda over 4.8 feet (1.5 meters) in length can be considered very large. Based on scale analysis of large specimens, Barracudas have a lifespan of at least 14 years. Sexual maturity is reached at a length of about 23 inches (60 centimeters). Occurring worldwide in near shore tropical and subtropical seas (30°N – 30°S), the Barracuda is common in the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts (U.S.) to Brazil. It is also found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea as well as the eastern Atlantic Ocean, Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea. It is rare or absent in areas of the eastern Pacific Ocean.