Leopard Cusk-eel, Lepophidium pardale
The Leopard Cusk-eel, Lepophidium pardale, whose common Spanish name is congriperla leopard, is a species in the Cusk Eel or Ophidiidae Family, known collectively as brotula and congriperlass in Mexico. Globally, there are twenty-three species in the genus Leopophidium, fourteen of which are found in Mexican waters, nine in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.
The Leopard Cusk-eels have elongated compressed bodies that taper to a point at the rear. They are a light olive color with three series of spots on their sides – small dorsally, eye-sized in the middle, and small ventrally. Their sides and the lower parts of their head and body are speckled with black. Their anal fin is black, their caudal fin has a black margin, and their dorsal fin is pale with ten elongated black blotches along its margin. Their gill cover has a white vertical bar. Their head is short with a small mouth and large eyes. 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. Their pectoral fins are short and reach less than half-way to the anal fin. Their pelvic fins have a pair of small threads inserted under the eyes. They have a strong snout spine that reaches the tip of the upper jaw. They are covered with small round scales.
The Leopard Cusk-eels inhabit sandy and muddy bottoms and are found demersal at depths up to 820 feet. They reach a maximum length of 50 cm (20 inches). They hide in caves during the daytime and only emerge at night to feed on crustaceans, polychaete worms, small clams, and other invertebrates.
The Leopard Cusk-eels have a limited distribution in Mexican waters being found from Magdalena Bay southward along the southwest coast of the Baja, in the lower two-thirds of the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala.
The Leopard Cusk-eels are easy to identify due to the spotting on their sides but they are somewhat similar to the Spotted Cusk-eel, Chilara taylori (small black spots in rows along the sides) and the Spotfin Cusk-eel, Ophidion galeoides (broken brown stripe along the lateral line; dark blotch at the front of the dorsal fin).
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 too rare and too small to be of commercial interest. They are seldom seen by humans and are of limited interest to most.
Leopard Cusk-eel, Lepophidium pardale. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, December 2009. Length: 16 cm (6.3 inches). Identification reconfirmed by Dr. Robert N. Lea, Monterey, CA.