Chameleon Wrasse

Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus

The Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, whose common Spanish name is señorita camaleón, is a member of the Wrasse or Labridae Family, known collectively as doncellas, señoritas, and viejas in Mexico. Globally, there are seventy species in the genus Halichoeres, nineteen of which are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and nine in the Pacific.

The Chameleon Wrasses have elongated compressed bodies with a depth that is 26 to 29% of standard length. Their coloration varies from red to green and creates a cross-hatching pattern. Females and males of the Initial Phase (IP) are pinkish or greenish dorsally and white ventrally with a black-blue ringed blotch just below their third and fourth dorsal spines and a second blotch a little above the center of their caudal fin base. Terminal Phase (TP) males are similar to IP individuals except that they have additional blue stripes on their head and sides and red and blue oblique stripes on their caudal fin. Juveniles are greenish dorsally and white ventrally with a mid-lateral white stripe and a small black spot at the base of their caudal fin. They have a small terminal mouth equipped with enlarged canine teeth at the front of both jaws (one pair above and two pairs below). Their anal and dorsal fins have bands with alternating orange and light blue stripes. Their pectoral, pelvic, and caudal fins are transparent. Their caudal fin is rounded and their dorsal fin has nine spines and eleven rays.

The Chameleon Wrasses are found over sandy or rubble bottoms adjacent to reefs from within tidal pools at depths up to 250 feet. They reach a maximum length of 25 cm (10 inches). They are a solitary diurnal species that feeds on brittle stars, crabs, mollusks, and sea urchins. They are a rare and poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Chameleon Wrasse is found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception that they are absent from Cedros Island northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Chameleon Wrasse is one of the more difficult wrasses to identify because juveniles and females undergo major color transitions as they mature. It is similar to the Golden Wrasse, Halichoeres melanotis (no black blotches).

The Chameleon Wrasses are too rare and too small to be of interest to most.

Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, initial phase (IP) female. Fish caught off the dock of the Old Mazatlán Marina, Sinaloa, April 2015. Length: 8.9 cm (3.5 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, terminal phase (TP) male. Fish caught off the dock of the Old Mazatlán Marina, Sinaloa, April 2015. Length: 11.4 cm (4.5 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, terminal phase (TP) male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Mazatlán, Sinaloa, October 2017. Length: 12.9 cm (5.1 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Josh Leisen (lifelistfishing.com), Gaylord, MI.

Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, terminal phase (TP) male. Fish caught off the beach at Cabo Real, Baja California Sur, May 2001. Length: 13.0 cm (5.1 inches). Fish identification courtesy of Dr. Ross Robertson, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.

Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, initial phase (IP) female. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, October 2017. Length: 19.1 cm (7.5 inches).

f108-chameleon-wrasse-4Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, terminal phase (TP) male. Fish caught from within Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, October 2016. Length: 20 cm (7.9 inches).

Chameleon Wrasse, Halichoeres dispilus, terminal phase (TP) male. Fish caught from coatal waters off Acapulco, Guerrero, January 2017. Length: 22 cm (8.7 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.