They sift small invertebrates like insect larvae and small crustaceans out of the sand.
Hogchokers are a small, rounded flatfish. Like all flatfish one eye migrates so that both eyes are on the same side, and they lie on the bottom with both eyes facing up. They reach up to 6” across but are commonly around 1-3” in the springs. They are well camouflaged, dark brown on the upper side and lighter underneath. Although often called a “freshwater flounder,” neither of those descriptors is entirely accurate. They are a brackish-water species, and a member of the sole family rather than flounder. They are found in estuaries and bays of the eastern US, from Massachusetts down to Panama. They blend in with the riverbed, lying on the bottom, often partially covered with sediment. They sift invertebrates like insect larvae and small crustaceans out of the sand.
When you see a hogchoker in a Florida spring, you’re looking at a juvenile who has made a long trip from its birthplace. Hogchokers are born in salt or brackish water and travel up fresh water rivers. In springs you will seldom see them much larger than 3 inches across. But as they mature, they will make the return trip to salt or brackish waters to reproduce, reaching a full size of around 6 inches.
What’s with the weird name? The rumored origin of the name is that when coastal fishermen found the full grown soles in their nets, they would discard them on the beaches, as they are too bony for humans to value as food. Feral pigs would find and feed on these 6-inch wide bony fish, and have difficulty swallowing them.
All flatfish start life with eyes on each side of their heads, looking like a typical fish. But as juveniles they undergo a metamorphosis with one eye migrating to the other side of the head and their bodies contorting sideways ready for an adult life spent lying on their sides on the bottom. For many species of flatfish, the eye might migrate to the left or to the right. But hogchokers are a right sided flatfish, meaning that their left eye always migrates to the right side.