The blackfish or tautog (Tautoga onitis) is a member of the Family Labridae (The Wrasses). Other wrasses that are targeted by recreational anglers include the bergall (Tautogolabrus adspersus), Napoleonfish (Cheilinus undulates) and California Sheepshead (Semicossyphus pulcher). Wrasses belong to the suborder Labroidei (e.g., Parrotfishes, Rainbowfishes, and Wrasses) which contains six families, totaling over 2,200 species. Five of these families are popular among fish-keeping hobbyists: Cichlidae (the cichlids, 1300 species), Embiotocidae (the surfperches, 23 species), Pomacentridae (the damselfishes, 315 species), and Scaridae (the parrotfishes, 80 species).
Tautog occur in structured habitat (e.g., rock piles, wrecks, or reefs) from Nova Scotia to South Carolina. They are most common from Cape Cod to Delaware.
Tautog are specialized benthic predators. They have deep, muscular bodies, which enable them to maneuver easily through structured terrain (This is in contrast to pelagic predators like sailfish which are long-bodied and poor at maneuvering within short distances). Underneath their thick rubbery lips are powerful jaws with molar-like teeth that are used to crush a variety of hard-shelled (e.g., mussels, clams, crabs, barnacles) and soft-shelled (e.g., worms) invertebrate prey. Tautog also have teeth in the back of their throat, called pharyngeal teeth, which enable them to pulverize and sort hard food items.