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Fish Food for Thought: Why is a Grunt Fish Called a Grunt Fish?

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There are well over 20,000 species of fish, each with unique scientific names. Truthfully, all fish may go by multiple names between the time it’s caught to the time it ends up on your plate.  For example, “grouper” is a generic name for at least 60 different species of fish. The same also holds true for snapper, a collective name for over 50 species.  In addition to scientific names, many fish have one or more names based on resemblance.  

I think the conventional wisdom of naming a fish based on physical characteristics started with fishermen. Just look through the eyes of a fishermen and you’ll begin to “sea” why fish were given their names. What would you do if you had to spend endless days on the water with delirium setting in? Name fish, of course! So, I gave it some thought and came up with 10 examples of what may have been said by fishermen as a few popular fish names were born:

  1. Grunt fish – “The first thing that fish does when it hits the air is grunt like a pig. Let’s call it a grunt!”
  2. Toadfish – “That fish is ugly as hell! Covered in bumps, leathery skin.  Must be a toadfish!”
  3. Catfish – “The whiskers on the face of that fish look just like Felix. And they sting like hell if they scratch you! I’m calling that one a catfish!” 
  4. Dogfish – “Those tiny sharks are swimming in packs and hunting little fish like dogs! Must be dogfish!”
  5. Tripletail – “Well look at that! A fish with three tails! Let’s name it tripletail!”
  6. Hogfish – “That fish looks just like a pig! And look at the way it roots around looking for food! How ’bout we call it a hogfish”
  7. Lionfish – “Look at those flashy fins and bright stripes!The head looks just like a lion and it bites like one too! Lionfish it is!” 
  8. Sheepshead – “Those stubby teeth look just like mine! Or let’s just say they look more like a sheep! It has a bunch of mini sheep in it’s head. Sheesphead!”
  9. Swordfish – “The first one caught probably impaled someone on the boat with its pointed bill as it thrashed around.  We should name it swordfish!”
  10. Wahoo – The first fisherman who saw this long fish probably squealed with glee – “Wahoo!!”

Perhaps naming fish was a way for fishermen to find purpose and meaning in life. Whatever the reason, it’s given us Fish Food for Thought.

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