Slippery Dick

Slippery Dick, Halichoeres bivittatus

The Slippery Dick, Halichoeres bivittatus, whose common Spanish name is doncella rayada, is a member of the Wrasse or Labridae Family, known collectively as doncellas, señoritas, and viejas in Mexico. It is the most common wrasse of the Caribbean and received its colorful name many years ago from its body size, shape, and texture.  Globally, there are seventy species in the genus Halichoeres, nineteen of which are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and nine in the Pacific.

The Slippery Dicks have elongated cigar-shaped bodies with a depth that is 28 to 30% of standard length. They have three color phases. Juveniles are white with two dark stripes the lower of which is less pronounced. Females and males of the Initial Phase (IP) vary greatly in color from various shades of light purple to dark brown with a dark mid-body stripe that extends from the snout to the base of their tail and a second lower less distinct stripe. They have a small green and yellow bicolored spot above their pectoral fin and pinkish or orange markings on their head that are sometimes outlined in pale blue. Males of the Terminal Phase (TP) are various shades of green with similar striping as IP individuals but the tips of their caudal fin lobes are black. Their head is rounded with a blunt snout and is devoid of scales. They have one pair of enlarged canine teeth at the front of their upper jaw, two canines at the back of their lower jaw, and one small canine on the corner of their mouth. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 9 rays; their caudal fin is rounded; their dorsal fin has 9 spines and 11 rays; and their lateral line is continuous with an abrupt downward bend under the dorsal rays. They have 16 to 18 gill rakers and their body is covered with large scales.

The Slippery Dicks are found in shallow water within coral and rocky reefs and in seagrass beds at depths up to 50 feet. They reach a maximum length of 35 cm (14 inches). They are known to congregate and seek food where bottom disturbances occur. While swimming, they appear as if dragging their tail. They are omnivores feeding on brittle stars, crabs, fish, polychaetes, mollusks, and sea urchins. They are diandric protogynous hermaphrodites with males developing directly from juveniles or via the mid-life sex change of females. Leks or groups of males aggregate to attract females. Eggs and larvae are pelagic until they settle out on the sea floor.

In Mexican waters the Slippery Dick are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Slippery Dick is a fairly easy fish to identify due to the small green and yellow bicolored spot above its pectoral fin found in all three life stages.

The Slippery Dicks are not a viable food fish but are used by the aquarium trade on a limited basis.

Slippery Dick, Halichoeres bivittatus, terminal phase (TP), male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Sugarloaf Key, Florida, August 2014. Length: 16 cm (6.3 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.

Slippery Dick, Halichoeres bivittatus, terminal phase (TP), male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, March 2017. Length: 18 cm (7.1 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.

Slippery Dick (2)Slippery Dick, Halichoeres bivittatus, terminal phase (TP), male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key Largo, Florida, December 2013. Length: 18 cm (7.1 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.