Saddle Midshipman, Porichthys ephippiatus
The Saddle Midshipman, Porichthys ephippiatus, whose common Spanish name is sapo enswillado, is a species in the Toadfish or Batrachoididae Family, known collectively as peces sapo in Mexico. The species was discovered and introduced as recently as 1988 by Dr. Richard Rosenblatt and my good friend and scientific fish mentor H.J. Walker, Jr. Gobally, there are fourteen species in the genus Porichthys, seven of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and six in the Pacific.
The Saddle Midshipmen have elongated bodies with an oval cross-section. They are brown in color with a golden sheen and have 4 to 6 dark saddles on their back (after which they are named), with occasional spots on their head. Their dorsal fin has up to 22 alternating light and dark blotches along the outer half. Their anal and caudal fins are white with dark margins. Their pectoral fins are dusky. They have a large head with eyes on top, canine teeth, and a prominent non-venomous spine on their gill cover. Their anal fin has no spines and 26 to 30 rays. They have two stout dorsal spines followed by a separate second dorsal fin with 31 or 32 rays which has a long base. They have 4 conspicuous rows of light organs along their lateral lines. The lower line on their flank has approximately 5 pores behind the end of the light-organ row (a key to identification). They have 7 to 9 lower gill rakers and are scaleless.
The Saddle Midshipmen are bottom dwellers found over sandy and muddy bottoms at depths between 50 and 750 feet. They reach a maximum length of 13.5 cm (5.3 inches) and consume crabs, echinoderms, fish, mollusks, and shrimp. They are a small deep water species that are seldom seen by humans and very little is known about their behavioral patters.
In Mexican waters the Saddle Midshipmen have a limited range being found only around the southern tip of Baja and along the coast of the mainland from Mazatlán to Guatemala.
The Saddle Midshipman can be easily confused with the Pearlspot Midshipman, Porichthys margaritatus (white anal fin; predominantly white dorsal fin).
The Saddle Midshipmen are small, seldom seen by humans, and of limited interest to most.
Saddle Midshipman, Porichthys ephippiatus. Fish collected from coastal waters north of Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, June 2007. Length: 7.8 cm (3.1 inches). Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.
Saddle Midshipman, Porichthys ephippiatus. Fish collected from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, September 2016. Length: 5.4 cm (2.1 inches).