Basketweave Cusk-eel, Ophidion scrippsae
The Basketweave Cusk Eel, Ophidion scrippsae, whose common Spanish name is congriperla canastera, is a species in the Cusk Eel or Ophidiidae Family, known collectively as brotula and congriperlass in Mexico. Globally, there are twenty seven species in the genus Ophidion, seven of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.
The Basketweave Cusk-eels have elongated bodies that taper towards the rear. They are olive-brown in color and are lighter ventrally. They have dark lines along their scales that produce a crisscross pattern, reminiscent of a basket weave. Their anal and dorsal fins are pale with black margins. Their heads are compressed (22% of standard length) and feature large eyes and a large mouth. Their top profile is convex. Their snout has a bony process and does not overhang the mouth. A key to identification is the gill raker count: there are 6 to 11 in total and the lower 4 to 8 are longer. Their anal and dorsal fin bases are long and continuous with their pointed caudal fin; the dorsal fin is longer and originates before the anal fin. They have long pectoral fins that are equal to or slightly longer than their pelvic fins. Each pelvic fin is a two-rayed filament, with the thread-rays of unequal length and found under the throat. Their head is devoid of scales, however, their body is covered with small smooth scales.
The Basketweave Cusk-eels inhabit sandy and muddy bottoms and are found at depths up to 700 feet. They reach a maximum length of 28 cm (11 inches). They are rarely seen by humans because they hide in caves during the daytime and only emerge at night to feed on crustaceans, polychaete worms, small clams, and other invertebrates.
In Mexican waters the Basketweave Cusk-eels have a limited distribution being found only from Todos Santos northward along the the central and northwest coasts of Baja. The fish pictured below documents the southern range extension for this species.
The Basketweave Cusk-eels are most likely confused with the Brighteye Cusk-eel, Ophidion iris (6 to 7 gill rakers, with the lower 4 to 5 being longer; pelvic fins 1.2 to 1.8 times longer than pectoral fins).
The Basketweave Cusk-eels are seldom seen by humans. They are obtained as a by-catch of deep water trawlers and by hook and line by commercial fishermen in the greater Los Cabos area, but are too rare and too small to be of commercial interest and are of limited interest to most.
Basketweave Cusk-eel, Ophidion scrippsae. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen in the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, November 2010. Length: 26 cm (10 inches). Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, LaJolla, CA and reconfirmed by Dr. Robert N. Lea, Monterey, CA.