Lance Lizardfish

Lance Lizardfish, Synodus scituliceps

The Lance Lizardfish, Synodus scituliceps, whose common Spanish name is chile arpón,  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 Lance Lizardfish have elongated tubular robust bodies with a depth that is 13 to 17% of standard length. Dorsally they are grayish brown with a silvery sheen and white ventrally; and, they have no significant markings. Their adipose, caudal, and pectoral fins are dark; their anal and pelvic fins are transparent; and their dorsal fin is dusky. Their head is short (19-21% of standard length) and features a long, sharply-pointed snout, small eyes, a lower jaw that ends in a flesh knob, and a large, slightly oblique mouth that extends well past the eyes; their mouth opens at the front and is equipped with many rows of fine pointed teeth. They have a straight lateral line. Their small adipose fin is above their anal fin; their anal fin base is longer than 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 pectoral fins are short and do not reach the pelvic fins; and their pelvic fins are large and found behind their pectoral fins. Their fins are spineless. A key to identification is that the anal fin base is longer than the dorsal fin base.

The Lance Lizardfish are found on the bottom (demersal) within and over sandy and muddy bottoms in very deep waters at depths up to 560 feet. They reach a maximum length of 55 cm (21.6 inches) and are the second largest of the lizardfish found in Mexican waters of the Pacific. They are voracious ambush predators feeding primarily on small fish, krill, squid, and shrimp.  They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexico the Lance Lizardfish are found  in all waters of the Pacific.

The Lance Lizardfish can be confused with the California Lizardfish, Synodus lucioceps (yellow pectoral fins; head 22-24% of standard length) and the Iguana Lizardfish, Synodus sechurae (anal fin base equal to dorsal fin base; pectoral fins reach pelvic fins).

The Lance Lizardfish are uncommon and viewed by local fishermen as a by-catch of limited value. Furthermore, their small mouths require small hooks for success. They are normally a “catch-and-release”.

Lance Lizardfish, Synodus scituliceps. Fish caught from coastal waters of Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, April 2016. Length: 28 cm (11 inches).

Lance Lizardfish, Synodus scituliceps. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, October 2017. Length: 30 cm (12 inches).  First photo above taken at the time of the catch indicative that they quickly lose their coloration and spotting upon death.