Fore-spotted Brotula, Brotula ordwayi
The Fore-spotted Brotula, Brotula ordwayi, whose common Spanish name is lengua pintada, is a species in the Cusk Eel or Ophiidae Family, known collectively as brotula and congriperlass in Mexico. Globally, there are only five species in the genus Brotula, three of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Fore-spotted Brotulas have elongated and relatively deep compressed bodies that taper towards the rear. The adults are a uniform light brown color with numerous black spots on the top portions of their head and first half of their body; these spots are absent around the mouth and on the ventral side. Their anal and dorsal fins are dusky black with a pronounced white margin. The filaments on their barbels and pelvic fins are white. Their head features large eyes, a nostril that is halfway between the top lip and the rear nostril, a large mouth, and large gill openings. There are three short barbels on each side of the snout and three barbels on each side of the lower jaw. Their anal and dorsal fin bases are long and continuous with a pointed caudal fin; the dorsal fin is longer and originates before the anal fin. They have 23 pectoral rays. Each pelvic fin is a two-rayed filament that is found under the throat. Their body is covered with small smooth scales.
The Fore-spotted Brotulas inhabit rocky reefs and adjacent sand bottoms and are found at depths up to 250 feet. The adults are benthopelagic being able to suspend themselves above the bottom, whereas the juveniles are common on reefs. They reach a maximum length of 75 cm (30 inches). They hide in caves during the daytime and only emerge at night to feed on crustaceans, polychaete worms, small clams, and other invertebrates. They are poorly studied and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Fore-spotted Brotula has a limited distribution being found from Acapulco south along the coast of the mainland to Guatemala. The fish pictured below documents a significant range extension for this species to the southwest coast of Baja.
The Fore-spotted Brotulas are easy to identify due to their spotting patterns but can be confused with the Pacific Bearded Brotula, Brotula clarkae (no spots on the head and first half of the body). They are obtained as a by-catch of deep water trawlers and by hook and line by commercial fishermen in the greater Los Cabos area, but are generally too rare and too small to be of commercial interest. They are seldom seen by humans and are of limited interest to most.
Fore-spotted Brotula, Juvenile, Brotula ordwayi. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, February 2014. Length: 6 cm (2.4 inches). Identification courtesy of Dr. Robert N. Lea, Monterey, CA.
Fore-Spotted Brotula, Brotula ordwayi. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, September 2009. Length: 46 cm (18 inches). Identification courtesy of Dr. Robert N. Lea, Monterey, CA.