Cabezon, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus

The Cabezon, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus, whose common Spanish name is also cabezon, is a member of the Cabezon or Scorpaenichthyidae Family, known as cabezon (large head) in Mexico. The Cabezon is the only member of the genus Scorpaenichthys and of the Scorpaenichthyidae Family and is found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.

The Cabezons have large bulbous heads and stout bodies. They are dimorphic with males featuring predominately marbled reddish-brown earth tones and females being greenish-brown. Their coloration is lighter ventrally and they can change colors to blend into their backgrounds. Females are larger than males. They have a disproportionately large head and a large broad mouth equipped with numerous small teeth. They have a stout spine before their eyes and a short cirrus on their snout. Juveniles have a pair of branched cirri above each eye that disappear with maturity. Their anal fin has 11 to 14 rays. Their caudal fin is rounded. Their dorsal fin is continuous with the first portion having 8 to 12 spines and the second portion being higher and having 15 to 18 rays. They have 16 to 22 gill rakers and are devoid of scales.

The Cabezons are found in shallow waters in rocky areas associated with reefs, boulders, kelp beds, and eel grass at depths up to 760 feet. They reach a maximum length of 99 cm (3 feet 2 inches) and weight of 11 kg (25 pounds). They spend the majority of their time as solitary demersal individuals resting on the bottom and are colored to blend into their backgrounds. They feed on crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and fish eggs. They spawn in coastal rock outcrops with each female laying between 50,000 and 150,000 purple to blue-green, pink or white eggs that attach themselves to rocky structures and are then guarded by males for four to six weeks until hatching. The larvae are pelagic and develop into silvery fish that hide within ocean debris and eventually return and settle out in tidal pools before moving to reefs and kelp forests. They have a lifespan of up to nineteen years.

In Mexican waters the Cabezons have a limiteddistribution being found from Punta Abreojos, Baja California Sur northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Cabezon is similar in appearance to the Scorpionfish but lacks head spines. Its smooth head and unique marbled mottling make it easy to identify.

The Cabezons are a favorite of pier anglers. While spawning, males become sitting ducks for recreational anglers as they sit on their nests; they are also targeted by spearfishermen during this period. They are caught and sold by commercial fishermen on a limited basis. Although they are a major component of the shallow water environment, they are poorly regulated and thus prone to overfishing. They are considered an excellent food fish, however, their roe is toxic to humans. The Cabezons were an important component of the diet of Native Americans. From a conservation perspective, they have not yet been evaluated.

Cabezon (1)Cabezon (2)Cabezon, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus, male. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater San Diego area, San Diego, CA, October 2014. Length: 34 cm (13 inches).

f659-cabezon-3Cabezon, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Santa Cruz, California, July 2016. Length: 48 cm (19 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Andrew Hansen, Santa Cruz, California.