Calico Lizardfish, Synodus lacertinus
The Calico Lizardfish, Synodus lacertinus, whose common Spanish name is chile lagarto, is a species in the Lizardfish or Synodontidae Family, known collectively as chilies in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Reef Lizardifsh. Globally, there are thirty srven species in the genus Synodus, eleven of which are found in Mexican waters, six in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.
The Calico Lizardfish have elongated tubular bodies bodies with a depth that is 12 to 14% of standard length. They are an overall reddish-brown coloration; their backs have 5 saddle-like markings that extend onto their sides as irregular bars and their lower sides have 10 to 12 reddish-brown blotches. Their anal, dorsal, and long pelvic fins have thin striping, whereas their caudal fin has wide striping. They are white ventrally. From personal observations I have noted that fish caught in waters of less than 50 feet are normally brown in color; those from depths of greater than 50 feet are always a deep red. Their head is wide, flattened, and medium-sized (22 to 24% of standard length). They have large eyes, a short non-protruding snout, and a large mouth, which extends past the eyes, is slightly oblique, and is equipped with many rows of fine pointed teeth. Their anal fin base is shorter than their dorsal fin base; their caudal fin is forked; their dorsal fin is mid-body and originates midway between their snout tip and their adipose fin; their adipose fin is above their anal fin; and their pelvic fins are large and inserted behind their pectoral fin base.
The Calico Lizardfish are found in and around rocky coral reefs and close to boulders adjacent to sand at depths up to 510 feet, although I have found them only at depths up to 300 feet. They reach a maximum length of 24 cm (9.4 inches), a length established by a fish that I caught. Although rather common in the greater Los Cabos area, they are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Calico Lizardfish is found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception that they are absent from of the northern third of the Sea of Cortez. One of my readers contributed a photograph of one caught off the beach in Neuvo Guaymus, Sonora.
Due to their elaborate red coloration patterns, the Calico Lizardfish are easy to identify and not likely to be confused with any other species. They are, however, quite similar to the very rare Eastern Pacific Flagfin, Aulopus bajacali (transparent anal fin without stripes).
The Calico Lizardfish are viewed by local fishermen as a by-catch of no value. They are more abundant than most species but are seldom caught because their small mouths require small hooks for success. They are strictly a “catch-and-release.”
Calico Lizardfish, Synodus lacertinus. Fish caught from shore at Buena Vista, Baja California Sur, January 2017. Length: 13 cm (5.9 inches).