Spotted Kelpfish

Spotted Kelpfish, Gibbonsia elegans

The Spotted Kelpfish, Gibbonsia elegans, whose common Spanish name is sargacero manchado, is a member of the Kelp Blenny or Clinidae Family, known collectively as sargaceros in Mexico. Globally, there are four species in the genus Gibbonsia, of which three are found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.

The Spotted Kelpfish have elongated and compressed bodies and a small tufted cirrus around each eye. They are cryptically colored and have three different and common morphologies, red, brown, and green, that closely match their surrounding plant habitat. A key to identification is the presence of one to three ocellated spots along the center line between the mid-body and caudal peduncle. Their fins are pale or have bands. Their head is elongated and pointed with a short bluntly pointed snout, a small terminal mouth, and modest-sized eyes. Their caudal fin is rounded. Their dorsal fin is very long and elevated at both ends; it is continuous with many more spines than the five to eight dorsal rays. Their pectoral fins are long. Their posterior dorsal rays are more widely spaced than their anterior rays (a key to identification). They are covered with scales which extend into the caudal fin (a key to identification).

The Spotted Kelpfish are found within dense seaweed beds and rocky areas in open coasts, in eelgrass, and in other vegetation of calm bays, from intertidal levels to depths up to 185 feet. Females are found in shallower waters than males. They reach a maximum length of 16.0 cm (6.3 inches). They feed on small crustaceans, mollusks, and polychaete worms as well as on algae. They are found associated with a large number of different plant species as they have the ability to change colors to match their surroundings. Reproduction is oviparous with females depositing eggs in nests attached to short seaweed at the bottom; eggs are vigorously guarded by males until they hatch. They have a lifespan of up to seven years.

In Mexican waters, the Spotted Kelpfish are abundant and found from Magdalena Bay northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Spotted Kelpfish is very similar to, but much smaller than, the Crevice Kelpfish, Gibbonsia montereyensis (equal dorsal ray spacing; non-scaled caudal fin), the Giant Kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus (forked tail), and the Striped Kelpfish, Gibbonsia metzi (equal dorsal ray spacing; non-scaled caudal fin).

The Spotted Kelpfish are utilized by the aquarium trade on a limited basis. They are small in stature and seldom, if ever, taken by hook and line. From a conservation perspective, they are currently considered of Least Concern, being abundant with a wide distribution.

Spotted Kelpfish, Gibbonsia elegans. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Mission Bay, San Diego, CA, September 2017. Length: 15.2 cm (6.0 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.