The body is oval and symmetric and has a uniform convex profile. They have a small mouth with thick lips and short dorsal and anal fins with fine spiny rays. The caudal fin is forked with acute lobes and has a characteristic black spot at the base. The salema has an overall silver appearance with 10 to 12 longitudinal stripes of a golden orangey colour on the sides. The head is slightly darker and the underside lighter in colour.
The salema lives in shoals and tend to swim pretty close together in an orderly fashion. The species isprotogynous hermaphrodite and reproduces in the spring and autumn. Juveniles are carnivorous but the adults are amongst the few herbivore fish to be found in the Mediterranean and feed almost exclusively on algae growing on rocks or amongst the Posidonia oceanica prairies.