Mullet, a name given to two families of acanthopterygian fishes, the muailidm and the mullidoe, though the latter, to avoid confusion are better styled surmullets. In the mugilidce the body is more or less cylindrical; head and body covered with large, easily detached scales, in reality ctenoid, but so slightly denticulated as to appear cycloid; gill covers thin and smooth; head flattened, and the eyes large and far apart; the mouth small, and the teeth, when present, exceedingly tine; a kind of crest in the lower jaw received into a groove in the upper; dorsals two, small and distinct, the first with usually four spinous rays, the second with flexible rays; ventrals behind pectorals; the pharyngeals are very large, the stomach rather fleshy, and the intestine with a few pyloric caeca; the swimming bladder is large. More than 50 species of the principal genus mugil (Linn.) have been described, from Europe, America, Africa, and the East Indies, inhabiting salt water, in preference about the mouths of rivers which they can ascend or descend with the tide.
The gray mullet of western Europe (M. capito, Cuv.) attains a length of from 1 to 2 ft.; the color above is dusky gray tinged with blue, the sides and belly silvery with longitudinal parallel dusky lines; a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin. They are highly esteemed as food, and are caught in nets, from which they attempt to escape by jumping over the edge. This species is common on the English coasts, never far from land, and ventures many miles inland with the tide; it is one of the species which thrive in fresh water; the food consists of soft or decaying animal or vegetable substances; the spawning time is in midsummer. The gray mullet of the Mediterranean (M. cepJialus, Cuv.) may be known by the two adipose veils which half cover the eyes, by the long ridged scale at the base of the pectoral fins, and by the entire concealment of the maxillary bone when the mouth is shut; it attains a weight of 10 or 12 lbs., and is taken in nets in great quantities at the mouths of rivers; the flesh is tender, delicate, and fine-flavored, and has been esteemed from ancient times; it is eaten fresh, salted, and smoked.
Of the American species may be mentioned the striped mullet (M. linea-tus, Mitch.), 6 or 8 in. long, purplish brown above, lighter on the sides, with 10 or 12 dark brown longitudinal stripes, pupils black and irides yellowish white, and abdomen pearl gray; this is an excellent fish, ranges from New York southward, and appears in the markets in early autumn; the white mullet (M.albula, Linn.), of a general whitish color, about 9 in. long, plump and firm, appearing in July and August, and prized by epicures; and the rock mullet (M. petrosus, Cuv.), like the last, found from New York to the gulf of Mexico. The African and Asiatic species are generally greenish brown above, with golden and silvery reflections, and white below. - The other family of mullets, more properly called surmullets (mullidoe), have some affinities with the perch family in the position of the fins, but differ from them in the unarmed opercula and the slightly ctenoid character of the scales; the branchiostegal rays are four; the scales are large and easily detached; the dorsals are two, widely separated, and all the fins are moderate; body oblong, little compressed; profile nearly vertical; mouth small, and teeth feeble; gill opening wide; eyes large and at top of the head; in most species the lower jaw has two barbels at the symphysis.
In the genus mullus (Linn.) there are no teeth in the upper jaw, but pavement-like ones on the vomer and lower jaw, and no air bladder. The red mullet (M. surmuletus, Linn.) is bright red above and on the sides, with three golden yellow longitudinal lines behind the pectorals, and rosy white below; it attains a length of 12 to 15 in. It is found from the English coast southward, being more common to the south, and very abundant in the Mediterranean, where it feeds upon crustaceans and mollusks; it is less esteemed as food than the next species. The bearded mullet (M. barbatus, Linn.) has a more vertical profile and a deeper and more uniform red color; comparatively rare north of the English channel, it is most abundant in the Mediterranean; this is the rouget of the French. Of about the same size as the last, it is more highly esteemed for its white, firm, well flavored, and easily digested flesh; the old Roman epicures paid immense prices for this fish; they kept them alive in vivaria, and exhibited their brilliant colors, rendered more beautiful in the agonies of death, to their guests. - In America fish of the allied genus upeneus (Cuv.), with teeth in both jaws, are called mullets; most of these have a large air bladder.
The U. rnaculatus (Bloch), with others, 6 or 8 in. long, is found in the gulf of Mexico, the West Indies, and South America; the color is red, with a few blackish spots; the flesh is not much prized.
Striped Mullet (Mugil lincatus).
Bearded Mullet (Mullus barbatus).