Ammodytes hexapterus - Pallas, 1814
Pacific Sand Lance
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Ammodytes hexapterus Pallas, 1814 (TSN 171672)
French Common Names: lançon gourdeau
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.101934
Element Code: AFCS601030
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Fishes - Bony Fishes - Other Bony Fishes
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Actinopterygii Perciformes Ammodytidae Ammodytes
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B91ROB01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Ammodytes hexapterus
Taxonomic Comments: The taxonomy of the genus Ammodytes is debated; research is needed to establish if 1) two genetically distinct species are present in the north Pacific and if 2) A. hexapterus and A. americanus are actually distinct species, or if A. americanus belongs to a single trans-Atlantic species, A. marinus, which may be circumpolar and synonymous with A. hexapterus (Robards et al. 1999d, Nizinski et al. 1990 in Mecklenburg et al. 2002). Similar in external appearance, differentiation between species of Ammodytes relies on meristic characters such as the number of vertebrate or protein characterization with electrophoresis; this has led to some confusion in the scientific literature about species names and geographic ranges (McGurk and Warburton 1992).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 19Apr2017
Global Status Last Changed: 22Feb2006
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Widespread and abundant in coastal waters; population trend unknown. Closely tied to sandy substrates in the intertidal zone; pollution by oiling and other contaminants and habitat destruction due to coastal urbanization are of concern.
Nation: United States
National Status: NNR
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (19Apr2017)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alaska (S5)
Canada British Columbia (SNR), Northwest Territories (SNR)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Throughout the coastal North Pacific; in the Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk in the western North Pacific and the Beaufort Sea south to Balboa Island (near Baja California) in the eastern North Pacific.

Population Size Comments: Species often escapes inventory survey measurement using standard hydroacoustic and trawl methods because they burrow into sand when not feeding (especially at night and during the winter), making determination of abundance difficult (Penttila 1997). Emmet et al. (1991) surveyed 32 U.S. Pacific coast estuaries and found Pacific sand lance distribution patchy throughout its range; considered common to highly abundant in Puget Sound, Washington, and rare in San Francisco Bay, California. The highest relative abundance was recorded in the Gulf of Alaska.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: This species may be particularly vulnerable to pollution in coastal areas and development of beach-front habitats (Robards et al. 1999c). Sand lance avoid oiled substrates (Pinto et al. 1984) and their site fidelity, spawning habitat requirements and burrowing behavior make them especially sensitive to beach pollution. Indirect evidence suggests that populations in Prince William Sound were negatively impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 (Golet et al. 2002). In Puget Sound, Washington, habitat is threatened by urbanization; placement of shoreline armoring structures and other development activities eliminate sand and gravel intertidal spawning and burrowing habitat (Penttila 1997).

Commercial fishing in Japan may impact this species, as 100,000 tons are harvested per year; in the U.S. limited recreational use of Pacific sand lance as bait is permitted (Emmet et al. 1991). Commercial fishing bycatch for this species is relatively low (Kruse et al. 2000).

May compete for food with salmon and herring. In Prince William Sound, Alaska, sand lance changed their diets when feeding in sympatric aggregations with Pink Salmon and herring; sand lance total food consumption declined in the presence of both species (Sturdevant et al. 2000).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: An accurate assessment of global abundance and trends is needed

Distribution
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Global Range: Throughout the coastal North Pacific; in the Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk in the western North Pacific and the Beaufort Sea south to Balboa Island (near Baja California) in the eastern North Pacific.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.

Map unavailable!:
Distribution data for U.S. states and Canadian provinces is known to be incomplete or has not been reviewed for this taxon.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK
Canada BC, NT

Range Map
No map available.

Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A small fish.
General Description: A small coastal forage fish with an elongate, compressed body. Metallic blue dorsally and silver ventrally, this fish routinely burrows into several centimeters of sand or gravel substrate. Identifiable features include absence of teeth and swim bladder, deeply forked caudal fin, lateral line high on the body, small cycloid scales and long, slender gill rakers. This species has a single dorsal fin which folds back into a groove, and projecting premaxilla and lower jaw. A fleshy ridge extending the length of the body on either side of the ventral midline is also sometimes present (Mecklenburg et al. 2002).
Reproduction Comments: Spawns intertidally and possibly subtidally once a year within proximity of burrowing habitat: in Alaska, from late August through October (Robards et al. 1999b); in Puget Sound, Washington, as late as mid February (Penttila 1997). Spawning has been documented in the same locations for decades (Robards et al. 1999b). Robards et al. (1999b) found age 1 (50%) and age 2 (31%) fish dominated spawning schools in the Gulf of Alaska and ages 3, 4, 5 and 6 made up 14, 4, 1 and < 1%, respectively, of the overall spawning school composition. Female fecundity is proportional to length, ranging from around 1,400 to 16,080 ova per female. Spawns vigorously in dense formations, leaving scoured pits in beach sediments. Slightly adhesive eggs are deposited in the intertidal zone just below the water line, and in some areas of Alaska in the subtidal zone (McGurk and Warburton 1992). Embryos develop in up to 67 days, often through periods of intertidal exposure and sub-freezing air temperatures (Robards et al. 1999d).
Ecology Comments: Considered a key prey species for many marine predators including birds, fishes and mammals because of its high energy content (Mabry 2000). Predators include commercially valued species such as halibut (Hippoglossus spp.), rockfish (Sebastes spp.) and salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) as well as seabirds such as the Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata), Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) and Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata) and marine mammals including the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) and humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) (Field 1987). The recovery of a Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba) colony in Prince William Sound, Alaska, appears to be limited by the availability of sand lance (Golet et al. 2002). Sand lance availability may also affect the reproductive output of Common Murres (Uria aalge) (Piatt and Anderson 1996). This euryhaline and eurythermic species has a short life span (up to 7 yrs), a large number of predators, and probably has correspondingly high rates of mortality, growth and fecundity (Fritz et al. 1993). Defense tactics used against predation include burrowing into soft, wet sand in the intertidal/subtidal zones and contraction of the fish school into a ball of closely packed fish (Robards et al. 1999d).
Habitat Type: Marine
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Spawning appears to occur within habitat occupied by this species year-round, and no spawning migrations have been observed; however, offshore-onshore movements occur before spawning in the fall (Robards et al. 1999d). Exhibits high site fidelity to spawning locations, although eggs and larvae are subject to limited movement by water currents and tides.
Habitat Comments: Found in nearshore and intertidal marine environments. Burrowing habitat is typically well washed fine sand and fine gravel, free of mud, usually with a strong bottom current keeping oxygen levels high (Emmett et al. 1991). Sand lance distribution in Kodiak, Alaska, was associated with freshwater influence and not on beaches composed entirely of fine, hard packed sand (Dick and Warner1982). Prefer well-lighted habitat and are most common at depths less than 50 m, but may be found up to depths of 275 m. Feeding schools are found in littoral waters within proximity of burrowing habitat. Highest abundance found in burrowing habitat that is sheltered from onshore wave action and disturbance by winter storms (Robards et al. 2002).
Food Comments: Larvae feed on phytoplankton and early zooplankton stages. Adults feed in large schools, consuming mainly copepod zooplankton within relatively short distances of fish burrowing habitat (Hobson 1986). Epibenthic invertebrates become more important in diet during autumn and winter. Adults also feed on herring (Clupea harengus) larvae and eggs, and may feed in mixed aggregations with herring and Pink salmon (O. gorbuscha) (Sturdevant et al. 2000).
Phenology Comments: Feeds and schools diurnally and burrows nocturnally into sand substrate; also burrows into substrate to pass the winter in a dormant state. Spawning occurs during night and day, between August and February, throughout the species' range.
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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Biological Research Needs: Basic research is needed on species life history parameters including reproductive ecology, productivity, and habitat requirements. Genetic studies are needed to identify population structure. Major sources of mortality need to be identified.
Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 11Jan2008
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Gotthardt, T. A. Reviewed by Martin Robards, Fisheries Biologist, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 22Feb2006
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Gotthardt, T. A. Reviewed by Martin Robards, Fisheries Biologist, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • McGurk, M.D. and H.D. Warburton. 1992. Pacific sand lance of the Port Moller estuary, southeastern Bering Sea: an estuarine dependent early life history. Fisheries Oceanography 1(4):306-320.

  • Mecklenburg, C. W., T. A. Mecklenburg, and L. K. Thorsteinson. 2002. Fishes of Alaska. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland. xxxvii + 1,037 pp.

  • Nelson, J. S., E. J. Crossman, H. Espinosa-Perez, L. T. Findley, C. R. Gilbert, R. N. Lea, and J. D. Williams. 2004. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 29, Bethesda, Maryland. 386 pp.

  • Page, L. M., H. Espinosa-Pérez, L. T. Findley, C. R. Gilbert, R. N. Lea, N. E. Mandrak, R. L. Mayden, and J. S. Nelson. 2013. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Seventh edition. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 34, Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Robards, M.D., M.F. Wilson, R.H. Armstrong and J.F. Piatt. 1999d. Sand lance: a review of biology and predator relations and annotated bibliography. Exxon Valdez oil spill restoration project 99346. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

  • Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.

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