Cunner (Tautogolabrus adspersus)
Alternate common name: Chogee.
Color: Green gray with some blotching; can change color to blend in with the bottom. Electric blue streaks running from mouth back to gill cover.
Size: Up to 10 inches long.
Habitat: Along the coastline, just below the tidemark among eelgrass, pilings, Irish moss, and rocky shores.
Seasonal appearance: All year.
The cunner is a small, slender fish that belongs to the wrasse family of fish. It is characterized by a single, long dorsal fin, with sharp spines forward and soft rays in the rear. The cunner has distinct iridescent blue streaks running from its mouth back to its gill cover, and it has large scales and tough skin with a vertically flattened body. Its flat-topped head has a pointed snout and a small mouth, generally exposing several of the sharp teeth. The cunner's tail fin is blunt with rounded corners. This species is closely related to and often incorrectly identified as a tautog, though the cunner is generally smaller, not as stout bodied, and has thinner lips than the tautog.
Life History and Behavior
Cunners live near the coastline, usually found inhabiting eelgrass beds, and they are observed swimming near piers, docks, and among rocks. Although this fish rarely travels into brackish water, it is occasionally seen in tidal creeks. Some cunners live together in small groups, but they do not school. Although the cunner lives in Rhode Island waters all year, it hibernates in the mud during the winter season. During hibernation, it lies among rocks or eelgrass beds in a motionless state.
Cunners are aggressive omnivores as well as scavengers. They feed on barnacles, mollusks, shrimp, crabs, amphipods, small fish, and almost any other available food sources, including eelgrass. It is difficult to determine the age of a cunner simply by looking at its size, as growth rates differ among individuals, and females often grow larger than males.
Adapted from The Uncommon Guide to Common Life on Narragansett Bay. Save The Bay, 1998.