Finespotted Jawfish

Finespotted Jawfish, Opistognathus punctatus

The Finespotted Jawfish, Opistognathus punctatus, whose common Spanish name is bocón punteado, is a species in the Jawfish or Opistognathidae Family, known collectively as bocónes in Mexico. Globally, there are forty-three species in the genus Opistognathus, thirteen of which are found in Mexican waters, six in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific.

The Finespotted Jawfish have moderately elongated and tapering bodies. They are light gray or brownish in color with numerous fine dark spots covering their entire body. These spots increase in number as the fish matures. There are also large black blotches on their sides and fins. The males have two black “V”-shaped marks inside their lower jaw. Their head is enlarged and bulbous. They have a large mouth that extends past their eyes and is equipped with moderately-sized canine-like teeth along the sides of the jaws; the interior of the mouth is a bright yellow-orange color. Their eyes are large and found high on the head. Their caudal fin is short and rounded. Their dorsal fin is continuous. Their pectoral fins are large and orange-tipped, while their pelvic fins are found anteriorly of the pectoral fins; these have one spine and five segmented rays. The lateral line is high on the body and ends under the middle of the dorsal fin. Their bodies are covered with smooth scales.

The Finespotted Jawfish live in shallow coastal waters on sandy or rubble substrate adjacent to coral or rocky reefs at depths up to 80 feet. They reach a maximum length of 41 cm (16 inches). They live in elaborate burrows that are self-constructed by utilizing their mouths and powerful jaws to excavate sand, small stones, and medium-sized rocks. Their burrows are frequently lined and reinforced with pebbles and shell fragments. They are generally found in colonies and feed primarily on benthic and planktonic invertebrates. They exhibit the unusual habit of oral egg incubation. They can be found in water with temperatures as high as 95oF.

In Mexican waters the Finespotted Jawfish have a limited distribution being found from Magdalena Bay southward along the southwest coast of Baja, throughout the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala.

The Finespotted Jawfish can be confused with the Giant Jawfish, Opistognathus rhomaleus (large spots on head, mid-sized eyes, tan color inside the mouth, no spots on the fins and body).

The Finespotted Jawfish are of limited value except to subsistence fishermen and are normally considered a “catch and release.”

Finespotted JawfishFinespotted Jawfish

Finespotted Jawfish, Opistognathus punctatus. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, April 2009. Length: 28 cm (11 inches).

Finespotted Jawfish, Opistognathus punctatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Bahia de los Angeles), Baja California, April 2006. Fish has unusual yellow pigmentation inside mouth, normally light tan. Catch and photo courtesy Gene Kira, Valley Center, CA.

Finespotted Jawfish, Opistognathus punctatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, March 2014. Catch and photo courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto.