California Lizardfish

California Lizardfish, Synodus lucioceps

The California Lizardfish, Synodus lucioceps, whose common Spanish name is chile lucio, is a species in the Lizardfish or Synodontidae Family, known collectively as chilies in Mexico. Globally, there are thirty seven species in the genus Synodus, eleven of which are found in Mexican waters, six in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.

The California Lizardfish have elongated tubular robust bodies with a depth that are 11 to15% of standard length. They are brown color overall, which is cream and gray dorsally and abruptly pale ventrally. They have a subtle row of approximately eight irregular dark blotches along their mid-flank. Their gill membranes and pelvic fins are yellowish; their adipose fin, caudal fin, and pectoral fins are dark; and their anal and dorsal fins are transparent with dark rays. Their head is wide and medium-sized (22-24% of standard length) and features a long pointed snout, large eyes, and a slightly oblique mouth. Their mouth is large and extends well past the eyes; it opens at the front and is equipped with many rows of fine pointed teeth. They have a straight lateral line. Their anal fin has a long base that is equal in length to their dorsal fin base; their caudal fin is forked; their dorsal fin is mid-body and originates closer to their adipose fin than their snout tip; their small adipose fin is above their anal fin; and their pelvic fins are large and found behind their pectoral fins. Their fins are spineless.

The California Lizardfish are found on the bottom (demersal) within and over sandy and muddy bottoms at depths between 5 and 750 feet. They reach a maximum length of 64 cm (25.2 inches) and are the largest lizardfish found in Mexican waters. They are voracious ambush predators feeding primarily on small fish, krill, squid, and shrimp. They in turn are preyed on by sea lions. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the California Lizardfish have a limited distribution being found only along both coasts of Baja.

The California Lizardfish can be confused with the Iguana Lizardfish, Synodus sechurae (short pectoral fins, white spots along the lateral line), and the Lance Lizardfish, Synodus scituliceps (short head, uniform body coloration).

The California Lizardfish are viewed by local fishermen as a by-catch of no value. Furthermore, their small mouths require small hooks for success. They are strictly a “catch-and-release” that can become pests to recreational anglers.

California Lizardfish (1)

California Lizardfish, Synodus lucioceps. Fish caught off a pier at Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur, April 2016. Length: 26 cm (10 inches).

f093-california-lizardfish-3California Lizardfish, Synodus lucioceps. Fish caught from coastal waters off Long Beach, California, August 2016. Length: 26 cm (10 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.