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Mullets have two separate dorsal fins, the first spiny and the second soft-rayed. Their ventral fins are on the abdomen behind the point of insertion of the pectorals; their tails are forked and they have large scales. Their closest affinity among Gulf of Maine fishes is with the silversides, which they resemble somewhat in the relative size and locations of the fins; but they differ from the silversides in their short, broad heads, small eyes, and relatively deeper and thicker bodies, while they have only 24 vertebrae instead of 35 or more. Furthermore, they are vegetable and mud eaters instead of carnivorous, their stomachs are thick walled and gizzard-like, the intestines long, corresponding to their food. The lining of the belly of the mullet is black while that of the silverside is pale.

There are many species of mullets. Most of them, however, are tropical, and only one has ever been known to stray within the confines of the Gulf of Maine.[56]

[56] The so-called red mullet or goat fish (Mullus auratus) of more southern waters, which is not a true mullet but belongs to a different family (Mullidae), is taken from time to time near Woods Hole, and it has been reported from Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia (by Leim, Proc. Nova Scotian Inst. Sci., vol. 17, No. 4, 1930, p. XLVI), hence it may be expected as a stray in our Gulf, though it has not actually been found there as yet. There is no danger of mistaking it for a mullet, for it is bright crimson, with a fleshy barbel on its chin, and with its ventral fins far forward, below its pectorals.