Adults grow to a length of 9 to 19.5 inches (35 to 50 cm). Immature mullet are 3 to 8 inches (7.6 to 17.8 cm) long. Distinguishing characteristics include an irregularly round, silvery body, dark bluish green back and dark longitudinal stripes on the sides, and a small mouth.
The striped mullet's diet includes zooplankton, benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms and detritus (dead plants and animals), and small invertebrates. Larger fish, turtles, water snakes, and wading birds prey on mullet. They reach sexual maturity in three years. Mating season lasts from late October to December for Texas species. Mature adults leave the bays, collect in large schools, and migrate offshore to mate.
During spawning season, females scatter one to seven million round eggs on the bottom. Eggs are not guarded by adults. After an incubation period of 36 to 50 hours, depending on water temperature, the young mullet hatch. Of millions of eggs spawned in offshore waters, most are eaten by other species. Juveniles return to coastal locations to mature after they have reached 15 to 32 mm long. Their lifespan is seven years for males and eight years for females, with a probable average lifespan of five years. The oldest striped mullet on record is one that lived 13 years.
Striped mullet tend to school (swim together in groups) for protection from predators in the daylight hours, although they feed around the clock. Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama harvest many tons of mullet for commercial use. The roe (eggs) are harvested and shipped to markets in Asia, where they are considered a delicacy.
Striped mullet are found in highly salty to fresh waters that are warm or temperate (8° to 24° C). They spend a great deal of time close to shore around the mouths of streams and rivers or in brackish bays, inlets and lagoons with sand or mud bottoms.
Striped mullet is common worldwide in warm to temperate coastal waters.
Striped mullet can often be seen in coastal waters, jumping to evade predators. Because they are one of the most common prey items of other commercially important coastal fish such as spotted seatrout, people often use them as bait. In Florida, striped mullet can be found on the menus of many restaurants, but in the western Gulf of Mexico (Texas and Louisiana waters), they take on an oily taste and are generally not eaten. Instead, mullet are harvested for use as a bait fish. Striped mullet are also widely cultivated in freshwater ponds in Southeast Asia where they are marketed fresh, dried, salted, and frozen. They are a very important commercial species in many parts of the world.