The Marbled Leopard Grouper (Plectropomus punctatus) is also known as the Marbled Coral Grouper and the Marbled Leopard Rockcod. They are rarely seen on the Tanzanian coast. Being quite colorful they are one of the more attractive looking larger groupers.
The Marbled Leopard Grouper has a typical robust grouper shape and as with many other groupers can lighten or darken its coloration depending on its mood. The juveniles are a dark brown colour with a series of random short dashes across the body and have a red eye. As they age so the dashes become less prominent. The adults are a marbled orange red brown colour with a orange red face. The jaws are a darker black brown colour and the fins are edged in blue. Their eyes have a red iris with a blue ring around them making them quite distinctive looking fish.
As with all grouper they have a proportionally large mouth designed for swallowing their prey whole and they have a row of proportionally small teeth in the front of their mouth. They are one of the larger groupers and their maximum length is 110 cm.
MARBLED LEOPARD GROUPER IN THE WILD
In Tanzanian waters, the Marbled Leopard Grouper is usually found below 15 meters in depth. They are not common and we have only seen them concealed in deep caves or well hidden underneath table corals. They appear to be nervous of divers and go into hiding at the sight of them. We have only sighted them solitary.
Marbled Leopard grouper are found on the east coast of Africa from Somalia down to the South African coast across to Yemen and Oman and the Laccadive Islands in India, including Chagos, Madagascar, Seychelles and Mauritius. They are typically found on deeper exposed reefs rather than in protected areas or estuaries. They are found from 2 meters downwards to 50 meters but we have only seen them between 18 and 32 meters.
The main diet of Marbled Leopard Grouper is small fishes, however given they are caught by fishermen on the hook this indicates that they will scavenge as well. They are ambush predators and feed in the early morning and late afternoon when their coloration gives them more camouflage. Red light is filtered out by the water after about 5 meters and their red colours provide good camouflage underwater.
Little seems known of Marbled Leopard breeding behaviour but spawning aggregations have been seen in the Seychelles. These aggregations have consisted of between 10 to 100 fish. The eggs are released into the substrate.
The Marbled Leopard Grouper is fished by local fishermen both by line fishing and using nets and traps and in most areas of the Tanzanian coast is heavily over fished.
MARBLED LEOPARD GROUPER CLASSIFICATION
Species: P. punctatus
Heemstra, P.C. and J.E. Randall, 1993. FAO Species Catalogue. Vol. 16. Groupers of the world (family Serranidae, subfamily Epinephelinae). An annotated and illustrated catalogue of the grouper, rockcod, hind, coral grouper and lyretail species known to date. Rome: FAO. FAO Fish. Synop. 125(16):382 p. (Ref. 5222)