Introduction to groupers
The word grouper comes from the word garoupa, which means “fish” in a Russian dialect spoken in a part of Siberia. The term grouper is used for certain fishes in the subfamily Epinephelinae in the family Serranidae. This family is also home to the sea basses. Groupers tend to grow rather big, but some species have been successfully kept by aquarists with large aquariums. Even small species will grow really fast and this is important to keep in mind for anyone who wants to keep a grouper.
The Bumblebee grouper is known under several other common names, such as Giant grouper, Lance grouper, Lanceolatus grouper, Queensland grouper, Brindle bass, and Brown spotted cod. Its scientific name is Epinephelus lanceolatus.
Geographical range and habitat of the Bumblebee grouper
The Bumblebee grouper is the biggest and most widely distributed grouper in the world. It lives in the Indo-Pacific, from the Red Sea down to South Africa and eastwards to Hawaii and Micronesia. It is rarely encountered north of the Maldives. In the western Pacific, you can find Bumblebee groupers from southern Japan to Australia. It has never been found in the Persian Gulf.
The Bumblebee grouper lives along both tropical and temperate coasts, but it tends to avoid cool temperate waters. The species is native to the following countries:
American Samoa; Australia; Christmas Island; Cook Islands; Djibouti; Eritrea; Fiji; French Polynesia (Marquesas, Tuamotu); Guam; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Japan (Ogasawara-shoto); Kenya; Kiribati; Madagascar; Malaysia; Maldives; Marshall Islands; Mauritius; Micronesia, Federated States of; Mozambique; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Northern Mariana Islands; Oman; Pakistan; Palau; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Pitcairn; Réunion; Samoa; Seychelles; Singapore; Somalia; South Africa; Sri Lanka; Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Tuvalu; United States (Hawaii Islands and Minor Outlying Islands.); United States; Vanuatu
The Bumblebee grouper is normally seen in lagoons and around coral reefs, but it has also been observed over rocky bottoms, mudflats, among seagrass and out in pelagic and epipelagic waters. Unlike most other large species of fish, large Bumblebee groupers will sometimes enter shallow inshore environments, such as harbours and estuaries, and really large specimens (<100 cm / 3.3 feet) have been caught near shore and in harbours. The fish will even swim into brackish water. This species seem to be very fond of caves and wrecks and large specimens will often spend a lot of time in a specific “home” cave or wreck.
The Bumblebee grouper has been found down to a dept of 100 meters (330 feet), but it is more commonly encountered in shallower water.
Epinephelus lanceolatus is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- Epinephelus lanceolatus is too uncommon to be of any major commercial importance for large fisheries, but it is a popular species in the live reef food-fish trade in South East Asia, especially in China and in regions with a significant Chinese population. The fish is also caught by recreational spear fishers due to its large size and is also fished using hook and line.
- Large specimens are stringy with a strong flavour and are therefore not very appreciated as food fish. Small specimens are on the other hand considered a delicacy and the meat is appreciated world wide. In the United States, small specimens retails for over US$ 100/kg. In Hong Kong, the price can be as high as US$ 169/kg. (1 kg = 2.2 lbs)
- Epinephelus lanceolatus is caught to satisfy the global aquarium trade.
- In Chinese culture, Epinephelus lanceolatus is commonly associated with good luck.
- The gall bladder of Epinephelus lanceolatus is used in traditional folk medicine.
- The thick walled stomach of Epinephelus lanceolatus sells for a high price.
No one really knows how large the world-wide population of Bumblebee grouper is and more research is needed. A large area is probably required to feed such a big predatory fish and it is therefore not unreasonable to assume that this fish only exists in low numbers even in unexploited parts of the ocean. What we do know is that this species have a minimum population doubling time that exceeds 14 years, which makes it vulnerable. The Bumblebee grouper doesn’t reach sexually maturity until it is 105-130 cm (-3.4-4.3 feet) in size.
Many fish traders in Hong Kong and mainland China are today offering live Bumblebee groupers from full cycle hatchery cultures in China and Taiwan and this will hopefully decrease the pressure on our remaining wild populations. Large specimens are however still caught from the wild.
In Australia, the status of Epinephelus lanceolatus varies among the various territories. It is a protected species in New South Wales waters since 1977 and in Queensland waters since 2003. It is also protected in the waters of Western Australia. In the Northern Territory, no species of the genus Epinephelusmay be taken if it exceeds 120 cm (almost 4 feet) in length.
India has imposed a total ban on capture and sale of Epinephelus lanceolatus in the Union Territory of Andaman Islands. Shipment and marketing is also prohibited. Accidental catches together with other groupers do occur, but these fishes can not be openly marketed. In mainland India, Epinephelus lanceolatus is on the banned list of species for fishing. Epinephelus lanceolatus is uncommon along most of the Indian coast, with the exception of the waters of the Union Territory of Andaman Islands, the Laccadive Islands and in the Gulf of Mannar.
The Bumblebee grouper is one of the biggest bony fishes found around coral reefs. The longest scientifically measured Bumblebee grouper was 270 cm (8.86 feet) long. The maximal published weight for this species is 400 kg. There are unconfirmed reports of Bumblebee groupers growing even larger. Author, inventor and avid scuba diver Arthur C. Clarke did for instance report seeing an approximately 20 feet (over 6 meter) long grouper in a sunken floating dock of the coast of Sri Lanka.
The Bumblebee grouper have a big mouth and a rounded tail. The fish will change colouration as it matures. Juvenile specimens are black with irregular yellow patches. As the fish grows older, the yellow patches will turn into more ornate patches and the body will eventually become green-grey or greyish brown with faint mottling.
Keeping Bumblebee grouper
Epinephelus lanceolatus is sometimes sold as a freshwater species or claimed to be a “marine species adapted to freshwater”. This is very far from the truth since the Bumblebee grouper is a marine fish living in the ocean. It is however capable of handling brackish conditions and can therefore venture into estuaries and similar. Young specimens are more adaptable than old ones and can even survive in freshwater for a while. Purchasing a Bumblebee grouper for your freshwater aquarium is not recommended. The older your fish becomes, the harder it will be for it to cope with not being in marine conditions. There are aquarium keepers that have kept bumble bee groupers successfully in freshwater for several years but this is not recommended and they will eventually need to be moved to saltwater environment.
If you want to keep a Bumblebee grouper, you must provide it with an aquarium that mimics its natural habitat in the ocean. If possible, give your grouper a suitably sized cave or similar where it can live, just as it would in the wild.
The Bumblebee grouper will not harm corals in the aquarium, but it will eat any fish small enough to defeat. This includes fishes of the same size as the grouper. The Bumblebee grouper is also fond of eating crustaceans.
Temperament and habits
This fish is normally a solitary creature. It doesn’t seem to migrate and it likes to seek out a suitable cave or wreck and spend most of its time there. It is a courageous fish, but not overly aggressive.
Feeding Bumblebee groupers
In the wild, the Bumblebee grouper is a carnivore fish that feeds on a lot of different animals and swallow all its preys whole. It is very fond of the spiny lobsters that inhabit coral reefs and rocky environments in the ocean, but will also eat young sea turtles and many types of fish, including small sharks and members of the superorder Batoidea. (Batoidea contains skates, stingrays, electric rays, guitarfishes and sawfishes.) Bumblebee groupers living in South African estuaries feed chiefly on mud crabs.
In the aquarium, the Bumblebee grouper needs to be fed different types of meaty foods. A varied diet is important.
Breeding Bumblebee groupers
The Bumblebee grouper is believed to reach sexual maturity when it is around 105-130 cm (-3.4-4.3 feet) long. It is an open water/substratum egg scatterer and does not guard its offspring.
Many species of grouper form spawning aggregation, but such behaviour have not been observed in Bumblebee groupers. There is however anecdotal reports of such occurrences and interviews with fishermen indicate that Bumblebee groupers might congregate to spawn in the waters of eastern Indonesia. From December to February, the fishermen can expect to catch 5-6 Bumblebee groupers per boat each week, instead of the normal ratio of 1 fish per boat and week.