The sheepshead, or “convict fish”, is deep and compressed in body shape, silvery with 5 to 6 dark bars on its sides. The bars are more distinct on juvenile fish. It has sharp spines on its dorsal and anal fins, heavy scales and a sharp gill cover. Several rows of prominent teeth, including incisors, molars, and rounded grinders line the upper and lower jaws.
Large juveniles and adults prey on blue crab, oysters, clams, crustaceans, small fish and barnacles while smaller fish consume plankton and larvae. Populations of sheepshead in mid-Atlantic coastal waters and the Mississippi Sound spawn in primarily in the early spring although pelagic larvae have been recorded from January through May in the Gulf of Mexico. Adults migrate to offshore waters to spawn, sometimes over artificial reefs and navigation markers, later returning to nearshore waters and estuaries. It seeks out warmer spots near spring outlets and river discharges and sometimes enters freshwater during the winter months.
Adult sheepshead primarily occur inshore around rock pilings, jetties, mangrove roots, and piers. Juveniles live in seagrass flats and over mud bottoms.
Coastal Atlantic waters from Nova Scotia through the Gulf of Mexico, mostly around southwest Florida. Found occasionally off the Caribbean coasts of Central and South America, south to Brazil. Uncommon in the Bahamas, West Indies, Grenada, and Bermuda.