Cortez Damselfish

Cortez Damselfish, Stegastes rectifraenum

The Cortez Damselfish, Stegastes rectifraenum, whose common Spanish name is jaqueta de Cortés, is a species in the Damselfish or Pomacentridae Family, known collectively as castañetas and jaquetas in Mexico. Globally, there are fourty species in the genus Stegastes, eleven of which are found in Mexican waters, seven in the Atlantic and four in the Pacific.

The Cortez Damselfish have oval compressed bodies with a depth that is 51 to 55% of standard length, similar in nature to freshwater bluegills. Adults are dark brown in color and transition to lighter brown on their head with scattered paler spots on their body. Their body scales have blackish margins and their pectoral fins have yellowish margins. Juveniles are bright blue with darker scale margins and a pair of neon-blue stripes on the upper part of their head and nape. They have a black ocellated spot at the base of their spiny and soft dorsal fin junction and a small blue-edged black spot on their upper caudal fin base. Their head has a small protrusible mouth that opens in the front with a single row of teeth. Their anal fin has two spines and 12 to 14 rays; their caudal fin is bluntly forked; and their dorsal fin is singular and continuous with 12 spines and 15 or 16 rays. They have 14 or 18 gill rakers on their lower arch. Their lateral line is incomplete and ends under the edge of their dorsal fin base. Their body is covered with large rough scales.

The Cortez Damselfish are found in shallow reefs within the surge zone at depths up to 40 feet but normally at depths of less than 50 feet. They reach a maximum length of 16.0 cm (6.3 inches), with this maximum established by a fish that I caught (pictured below). They are diurnal feeders consuming primarily algae, plankton, and benthic invertebrates. They are very aggressive with their feeding habits and when defending their territory. Reproduction is oviparous with pairing of individuals; eggs are distributed demersal and adhere to the substrate due to their stickiness.

In Mexican waters the Cortez Damselfish are found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception that they are absent from Guerrero Negro northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja and from the northern 20% of the Sea of Cortez.

The Cortez Damselfish can easily be confused with the Acapulco Damselfish, Stegastes acapulco (front half of body lighter in color), the Beaubrummel, Stegastes flavilatus (yellow tip fins; 11 or 12 gill rakers on lower arch), the Giant Damselfish, Microspathodon dorsalis (white tipped fins), and the Whitetail Damselfish, Stegastes leucorus (yellow pectoral fin border).

The Cortez Damselfish are small and of limited interest to most. They are classic nibblers, thus difficult to catch by hook and line.

Cortez Damselfish (2)

Cortez Damselfish, Stegastes rectifraenum, juvenile transitioning to an adult. Fish caught from shore at Km 21, Cabo Real, Baja California Sur, December 2015. Length: 12.4 cm (4.9 inches).

Cortez Damselfish, Stegastes rectifraenum. Fish caught from shore at Km 21, Cabo Real, Baja California Sur, May 2011. Length: 16.0 cm (6.3 inches). Fish identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.

Cortez Damselfish, Stegastes rectifraenum. Fish caught from shore in Acapulco, Guerrero, February 2017. Length: 16.0 cm (6.3 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.