Ammodytes americanus DeKay, 1842, Stratford, Connecticut, United States.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: American sand lance, sand eel, lance.
Slender and elongate, with a long head and sharply pointed snout and a large, toothless mouth, with the lower jaw projecting far beyond the upper. Long and spineless dorsal fin with 52–61 segmented rays, long and spineless anal fin with 26–33 segmented rays, and forked caudal fin. Has 106–126 (usually 112–124) oblique folds of skin called plicae with cycloid scales underlying them and 63–71 vertebrae (usually 65–70). Coloring is olive, brownish, or bluish green above, with silvery sides and a white belly; some have a longitudinal stripe of iridescent steel blue along each side. Grows to 6.3 in (16 cm).
Atlantic coast of North America from as far south as Chesapeake Bay (perhaps Cape Hatteras) to Newfoundland and northern Labrador.
Usually shallow water (< 6.5 ft, or 2 m) in estuaries or along coasts over sand or fine gravel substrates used for burrowing.
Form schools of up to several thousand individuals, usually of similar-sized fishes. At high tide they may burrow into the sand and remain on exposed flats until the next tide. Daily movements are not known, and burying
, rather than offshore/inshore movements, might explain their sudden appearances and disappearances. It is thought that they spend a good deal of their time buried in the substrate, particularly at night and in the winter.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Feeds on zooplankton, especially copepods but also mysids, euphausids, chaetognaths, salps, urochordates, eggs, dinoflagellates, diatoms, and fish fry. Little is known about feeding ecology; even the times and places they feed are the subject of controversy. Inshore sand lances as well as other sand lance species are an important forage species for larger fishes, marine birds, and mammals; they act as agents of energy transfer in the food chain, from zooplankton to higher level predators.
Spawning has not been observed, but it occurs during fall and winter, peaking in December and January and ending in March, probably near shore, where current speeds are low. Most reach reproductive age at the end of their second year, with females’ egg production estimated at 1,800–5,200 eggs each season. (Related species have been estimated to produce more than 20,000 eggs.) Eggs are demersal and hatch pelagic larvae after 30–74 days, depending on water temperature. Maximum life span is about 12 years.
Not listed by the IUCN.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
There is little direct
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
, with only occasional use in the bait-fish industry. Historical landings are up to 75 metric tonnes per year, though usually well below this amount. They are of great ecological importance and play a significant role as forage fish for at least 20 commercial species including mackerel, herring, cod, hake, pollock, Atlantic salmon, and several flatfish species. Sand lances are also substantial components in the diet of some seabirds (such as terns and cormorants) and marine mammals (such as fin and humpback whales, porpoises, and seals) whose presence impacts tourism.
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