Cape Wrasse

Cape Wrasse, Sagittalarva inornata

The Cape Wrasse, Sagittalarva inornatawhose common Spanish name is señorita del Cabo, is a member of the Wrasse or Labridae Family, known collectively as doncellas, señoritas, and viejas in Mexico. This species was first reported by Gilbert in 1890 then virtually disappeared from the literature. It was rediscovered, aided by photographs on this website, by Dr. Benjamin Victor and published in Zootaxa 3669 (4): 551–570, 2013. Globally, there is only one species in the genus Sagittalarva, this fish that is found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.

The Cape Wrasses have long slender very compressed bodies with a depth that is 9.0 to 10.5% of standard length. Males have a salmon-pink to orange coloration with bright blue stripes that follow the lateral line and a series of broken blue lines on their head. Both dorsal and caudal fins have salmon and white bands with a wide black band on their margins. The markings of juveniles and females are unknown due to a lack of fish for examination. They have a small terminal mouth equipped with a single pair of enlarged canine teeth at the front of their upper and lower jaws (a key to identification) and a long pointed snout. Their dorsal fin spines are pungent with the first spine being the shortest and subsequent spines and rays being progressively longer. Their caudal fin is rounded.

The Cape Wrasses are found over sandy or rubble bottoms adjacent to reefs at depths between 160 and 500 feet. They reach a maximum length of 16.2 cm (6.4 inches). They are solitary diurnal opportunistic feeders and benefit from disturbances caused by other fish and consume brittle stars, crabs, mollusks, and sea urchins.  They are an exceedingly rare and poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexicanwaters the Cape Razorfish has a very limited distribution and are currently known only to reside within the greater Los Cabos area of Baja in the extreme southwest corner of the Sea of Cortez.

The Cape Wrasse is one of the more difficult wrasses to identify due to the undocumented coloration patterns of the juveniles and females both of which most certainly undergo a major color transition as they mature. They are similar to the Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus (lacks black caudal and dorsal margins and the blue line under the eye.).

The Cape Wrasses are too small and too rare to be of interest to most.

Cape Wrasse, Sagittalarva inornata, initial phase (IP), female. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, December 2016. Length: 15.8 cm (6.2 inches).

Cape Wrasse, Sagittalarva inornata, terminal phase (TP), male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, July 2007. Length: 13 cm (5.1 inches). Identification courtesy of Dr. Benjamin Victor, www.coralreeffish.com.