Bigscale Soldierfish, Myripristis berndti
The Bigscale Soldierfish, Myripristis berndti, whose common Spanish name is soldado azotado, is a member of the Squirrelfish or Holocentridae Family, known collectively as candiles in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Blotcheye Soldierfish. Globally, there are 27 species in the genus Myripristis, of which three are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Bigscale Soldierfish have oval, laterally compressed, and deep bodies. They have a red coloration overall and silvery-pink to pale yellow scales with red edges. Their first dorsal fin has a red base with orange-yellow margins. All their other fins are red with white margins and a dark submarginal streak. Their gill cover membranes are dark brown to black and located above the pectoral fin base. Their head has a blunt snout, a convex forehead, very large eyes, a large oblique mouth, and a protruding lower jaw. Their gill cover has one short spine. Their anal fin has four spines, the third being the stoutest, and 11 to 13 rays. Their caudal fin is forked. Their dorsal fin is continuous and disproportionately large; it has 11 spines and 13 to 15 rays. They have 35 to 42 gill rakers and are covered with large scales.
The Bigscale Soldierfish are a benthopelagic species found in aggregates of mixed species in and around coral reefs from the surface to depths up to 520 feet. They reach a maximum length of 31 cm (12 inches). They are nocturnal and will take shelter in small caves within rock structures and under ledges during daylight hours. They feed primarily on small crustaceans and large zooplankton. They are preyed upon by all types of larger fish and marine animals. Reproduction has been poorly studied but is believed to involve spawning in open waters with pelagic eggs and larvae settling out in several weeks.
The Bigscale Soldierfish are widely distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical waters of the Indo-Pacific and eastern Pacific. In Mexican waters, they are found around the tip of Baja and sporadically along the coast of the mainland from Mazatlán southward to Guatemala.
The Bigscale Soldierfish can be confused with the Panamic Soldierfish, Myripristis leiognathus (uniform red dorsal fin) and the Tinsel Squirrelfish, Neoniphon suborbitalis (reddish-brown; prominent gill cover spines; long third anal spine).
The Bigscale Soldierfish are easily caught by hook and line and fished commercially. Although small in stature, they are considered an excellent food fish and are a mainstay in the diets of subsistence fishermen. They are prone to overfishing in some areas. They are sold fresh in some local markets. They are also popular home aquarium fish due to their availability, hardiness, and reasonable cost. From a conservation perspective, they are currently classified as of Least Concern, being abundant with a wide distribution.
Bigscale Soldierfish, Myripristis berndti. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Kailua-Kona, HI, August 2014. Length: 28 cm (11 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.