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How Sheepshead Got Its Name

When I grew up on New York’s Long Island, I knew of a town called Sheepshead Bay. I incorrectly thought it was because the community raised sheep in colonial times, but the town was named for the abundance of an edible fish in the bay there called Sheepshead. The fish got its name because of its resemblance to a sheep’s mouth full of teeth. The teeth actually look like human teeth. Nowadays, this fish is rare in the waters around Brooklyn.

This North American species lives from Cape Cod through Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico to Brazil. Sheepshead habitat is rocky jetties, piers and in Florida it survives amongst mangrove roots.

On a Cocoa Beach pier, anglers drop their line around the pier’s pilings where sheepshead hang out. They are a tasty fish and must be at least 12 inches long to keep and there are limits to the numbers you can take from the fishery.

On a recent trip to Homosassa Springs State Park, I descended into the fishbowl, a metal glass tank suspended under the water in the spring. Dozens of sheepshead swam past the thick windows. An anhinga bird dove deep into the spring to snatch small fish from the water as the sheepshead darted away.

The next time you come across a road named Beaverdam Street or a town called Wolf Point, do some research into the origins of the name and you’ll uncover many interesting stories of that area.

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