Atlantic Creolefish, Cephalopholis furcifer
The Atlantic Creolefish, Cephalopholis furcifer, whose common Spanish name is rabirrubia del Golfo, is a member of the Grouper or Epinephelidae Family, known collectively as cabrillas and garropas in Mexico. Note: This species is non-grouper like and I anticipate that it will be reclassified into a different family shortly. Globally, there are twenty six species in the genus Cephalopholis, five of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Atlantic Creolefish have elongated fusiform bodies with similar convex upper and lower body profiles. They have a very small head and a short snout. They vary in color from gray to bright red with a pale salmon colored belly. They have three light spots along their back and a bright red spot at the base of their pectoral fin. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 8 to 10 rays; their caudal fin is deeply concave; and their dorsal fin has 9 spines and 17 to 19 rays. They have 37 or 38 gill rakers. Their body is covered with rough scales.
The Atlantic Creolefish are found demersal near the bottom in coral reefs and adjacent rocky areas at depths up to 165 feet. They reach a maximum length of 40 cm (16 inches). They are very abundant and can be found in large feeding aggregations often mixed in with damselfish throughout their known range. They are very shy and will retreat when alarmed. They primarily consume zooplankton. In turn they are preyed upon by larger fish and sharks. They are known to frequent “cleaning stations” to have parasites removed by several different species of fish and a couple of species of shrimp. Very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters they have a limited distribution being found only along the east coast of the Yucatán.
The Atlantic Creolefish is a very easy fish to identify and cannot be confused with any other species from the Atlantic, however, it is very similar to the Pacific Creolefish, Cephalolpholis colonus, found only in the Pacific.
The Atlantic Creolefish are not considered an important fish of the Atlantic and are not a targeted species. They are difficult to catch via hook and line as they feed on planktonic organisms due to their shortened snout, however, this has the advantage of facilitating close-range binocular vision. I have caught the Pacific Creolefish with some regularity during colder water months in shallow waters using small hooked Sabiki rigs tipped with cut squid, thus ending the myth that Creolefish cannot be caught with hook and line. They are an exceptional food fish and sold on a limited basis in local fish markets.
Atlantic Creolefish, Cephalopholis furcifer. Fish caught from waters of the Florida Middle Grounds, March 2014. Length: 36 cm (14 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.