Atlantic Spadefish

Atlantic Spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber

The Atlantic Spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber, whose common Spanish name is chabela, is a species in the Spadefish or Ephippidae Family, known collectively as peluqueros in Mexico. Globally, there are only three species in the genus Chaetodipterus, two of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Atlantic Spadefish have highly compressed deep oval bodies with a depth that is 83 to 87% of standard length. They are silvery white to grayish with six blackish wide vertical bars on their body that extend into their fins and tend to fade with age. Juveniles are coppery brown with irregular dark bars and scattered dark spots. Their fins are dark except in the areas where the white background extends into. Their head is rounded with a very short blunt snout and a small mouth that opens at the front with small brush-like teeth in bands. Their anal and dorsal fins are similar in shape with pointed tips; the anal fin has three spines and 18 or 19 rays and the dorsal fin is continuous with 9 spines, the third spine being significantly longer, and 21 to 23 rays. Their caudal fin is slightly concave; their pectoral fins are short; and their pelvic fins are long and under the pectoral fins. They have a complete lateral line and are covered with scales.

The Atlantic Spadefish inhabit a variety of habitats collecting in large schools of up to 500 individuals and are found around man-made structures including bridges, buoys, harbors, pilings, and wrecks. They can also be found around reefs and amongst mangroves from estuaries to the open ocean at depths up to 130 feet. They reach a maximum length of 91 cm (3 feet) and 9.1 kg (20 pounds) in weight. They feed on algae and a variety of benthic and planktonic invertebrates including crustaceans, mollusks, and worms. In turn they are preyed upon by sharks and large fish including tripletail. Reproduction is oviparous with each female releasing one million eggs per annum. The eggs are small and buoyant and hatch within twenty-four hours. They have a lifespan of up to ten years.

In Mexican waters the Atlantic Spadefish are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Atlantic Spadefish can be confused with the Banded Butterflyfish, Chaetodon striatus (four bars; white fin margins), the Orbiculate Batfish, Platax orbicularis (four bars; a native to the Pacific thought to have been introduced to the Atlantic via aquarium release) and the Sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus (longer snout; more elongated body profile; smaller anal and dorsal fins).

The Atlantic Spadefish are fished commercially but not extensively and marketed fresh. They are considered a quality food fish, however, they are known to contain Cigua Toxin. From a conservation perspective they are currently considered of Least Concern, being widespread and common throughout their range with stable populations. They are considered a good recreational angling foe being classic nibblers and difficult to hook. They will approach divers and are also a component of the aquarium trade.

Atlantic Spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber. Fish caught off the Tybee Pier, Savannah, Georgia, October 2009. Length: 20.0 cm (7.9 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Kenneth Tse, Toronto, Canada.