Bass (fish)

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Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)

In ichthyology, bass is the common name shared by members of over 200 different species of marine, brackish, and freshwater fish within the large order Perciformes (perch-like fishes) and principally those within the three families of Serranidae (sea basses), Moronidae (temperate basses), and Centrarchidae (sunfishes, but including basses in several genera). Other species commonly known as basses can be found in the families Percichthyidae (temperate perches), Nototheniidae, and Polyprionidae (sometime placed within Acropomatidae) (Agbayani 2006; Nelson 1994).

Many bass are popular game fish. These include such as Morone saxatilis (striped bass), Morone chrysops (white bass), Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass), and M. dolomieu (smallmouth bass). As such, they provide more than nutritional value. Rather, they also touch upon the inner nature of people, providing joy through the challenge of being out in nature and attracting and capturing a fish unseen below the surface of the water, many of whom are known as fish that put up a good fight once hooked.


The term bass is not a formal taxonomic rank, but rather is the common name used for numerous predatory species scattered over several families within the Perciformes. Agbayani lists 238 species for which the common name bass, basslet, bassi, or ambasse specifically is applied. Many of these species have several common names including such as Ambloplites rupestris, which is variously known as the rock bass, northern rock bass, redeye bass, and bass czerwonooki; Dicentrarchus labrax, which is known as bass, meribassi, common bass, and European seabass; Dicentrarchus punctatus, which is called black-spotted bass, sea bass, spotted bass, and spotted seabass; and Micropterus dolomieu, which is known as black bass, green bass, northern smallmouth bass, smallmouth bass, pikkubassi, smallmouth black bass, black bass, streaked-cheek river bass, swago bass, and trout bass.

The term bass encompasses both freshwater and marine species, as well as those that live in brackish waters. All belong to the large order Perciformes, or perch-like fishes, and in fact the word bass comes from Middle English bars, meaning "perch" (AHD 2000).

The order Perciformes is the most diverse of all fish orders and indeed is the largest order of vertebrates (Nelson 1994). Nelson recognizes 18 suborders, 148 families, and about 1,500 genera and 9,300 species within Perciformes.

The three main families whose members include species known as basses are Moronidae, Serranidae, and Centrarchidae, with some members also in the families Percichthyidae, Nototheniidae, and Polyprionidae (Nelson 1994).


The Moronidae as a group are known as temperate basses. They are found in brackish, freshwater, and marine environments and are native to North America but have been introduced to Europe and northern Africa (Nelson 1994). The Moronidae are characterized by two dorsal fins, the first with eight to ten spines and the second with one spine and ten to thirteen soft rays (Nelson 1994). The anal fin has three spines and nine to twelve soft rays, the opercle has two spines, and the lateral line extends almost to the posterior margin of the caudal fin (Nelson 1994).

There are two genera of Moronidae that are recognized: Morone and Dicentrarchus. Common bass include Morone saxatilis (striped bass), Morone chrysops(white bass), and Dicentrarchus labrax (common bass or European seabass).


The Serranidae as a group are known as sea basses. They are mainly a marine group, but include some freshwater representatives. The Serranidae are characterized by an opercle with three spines and a dorsal fin that is generally continuous, although it may be notched, and has seven to thirteen spines (Nelson 1994). The caudal fin is usually rounded, truncate, or lunate (rarely forked), there are three anal spines, and the pelvic fin has one spine and five soft rays (Nelson 1994). The maximum length of the sea basses goes up to three meters (nine feet) and they reach up to 400 kilograms in weight, although most species grow no longer than ten centimeters and some only reach three centimeters (Nelson 1994).

Nelson (1994) recognizes 62 general and 449 species within this family. Among the many species whose common name includes bass are Paralabrax callaensis (sea bass or Southern rock bass), Serranus flaviventris (two-spot bass or twinspot bass), Centropristis fuscula (twospot sea bass), Serraniculus pumilio (pygmy sea bass), Serranocirrhitus latus (swallow-tail basslet), Sacura parva (little fairy basslet), and Epinephelus quernus (sea bass, but also Epinephelus is part of the tribe Epinephelini, which are known collectively as "groupers.")(Nelson 1994; Agbayani 2006).


Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

The Centrarchidae as a group are known as the sunfishes, but there are species designated as basses. The Centrarchidae are characterized by the presence of suborbital bones in addition to the lachrymal and dentary and angular penetrated by the lateral line, and anal fin spines and a dorsal fin typically with five to thirteen spines (Nelson 1994).

Nelson (2006) recognizes eight genera and 31 species in Centrarchidae. The Micropterus are known as the basses (Nelson 1994), although five other genera also include representatives with the common name of bass (Agbayani 2006): Ambloplites (A. ariommus or shadow bass, A. cavifrons or roanoke bass, A. constellatus or ozark bass, and A. rupestris or rock bass); Centrarchus (C. macropterus or bass pawik); Lepomis (L. gibbosus or sun bass); Enneacanthus (E. chaetodon or bassek tarczowy, and E. gloriosus or bassek diamentowy), and Pomoxis (P. annularis or calicos bass, and P. nigromaculatus, known variously as calico bass, grass bass, oswego bass, speckled bass, and strawberry bass).

Among the best known are Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass), M. dolomieu (smallmouth bass), M. punctulatus (spotted bass), and M. treculii (Guadalupe bass).

Largemouth bass can usually be found in large structures, such as submerged branches, logs or rocks. The largemouth is known to be one of the best "fighters" and a ferocious predator attacking just about anything that moves. Largemouth have even been known to eat ducklings and baby alligators. The world record largemouth bass was caught near Jacksonville, Georgia on June 2, 1932 by George Perry. It weighed 22 pounds 4 ounces and was caught from an oxbow lake off the Ocmulgee River called Montgomery Lake. This is one of the most sought-after records in the fishing world.

Species in other families

Other species known as basses include

  • Australian bass, Macquaria novemaculeata, a member of the perch family, Percichthyidae
  • Giant sea bass, Stereolepis gigas, also known as the black sea bass, a member of the family Polyprionidae
  • Chilean sea bass, Dissostichus eleginoides, more commonly known as the Patagonian toothfish, a member of the Nototheniidae family.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • American Heritage┬« Dictionary of the English Language (AHD). 2000.Bass. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition. Retrieved September 15, 2007.
  • Nelson, J. S. 1994. Fishes of the World, 3rd edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471547131.
  • Nelson, J. S. 2006. Fishes of the World, 4th edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471250317.


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