Leopard Searobin

Leopard Searobin, Prionotus scitulus

The Leopard Searobin, Prionotus scitulus, whose common Spanish name is rubio leopardo, is a species in the Searobin or Triglidae Family, known collectively as rubios and vacas in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Gulf of Mexico Barred Searobin. Globally, there are 23 species in the genus Prionotus, of which 15 are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.

The Leopard Searobins have elongated and slim bodies. They are brown dorsally and white ventrally and are covered with red-brown spots. Their anal fin has white margins with a translucent dark stripe mid-fin. The upper half of their caudal, dorsal, and pectoral fins are brown with red-brown spots. Their first dorsal fin has two ocelli, the first between the first and second spines and the second between the fourth and fifth spines. Their head is large, long, and conical with bony ridges and spines that vary with the maturity of the fish; these are prominent in juveniles and absent in adults. Their short sub-terminal mouth is equipped with villiform teeth arranged in narrow rows. They have a narrow gap between their eyes. Their anal fin has 11 to 13 rays and their dorsal fin has 10 spines and 12 to 14 rays. Their pectoral fins are large, strongly rounded, and “wing-like” with 12 to 14 rays; the first three rays are enlarged and free-standing and reach the fourth anal fin ray. They have 9 to 13 gill rakers. Their body is covered with small scales with the exception of the throat which has no scales.

The Leopard Searobins are found demersal in shallow coastal bays over sandy and muddy bottoms at depths up to 300 feet. They reach a maximum length of 25 cm (10 inches). They consume crabs, polychaetes, and shrimp. Reproduction is oviparous with external fertilization. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Leopard Searobins are found throughout the Atlantic.

The Leopard Searobin is very similar to and easily confused with the Barred Searobin, Prionotus martis (14 or 15 pectoral rays; 8 to 11 gill rakers; scales on throat – indeed the fish photographed below might be one) and several other searobins from the Atlantic, however most only have one dorsal spot. Also, the body of the Leopard Searobin is not as deep as that of the other similar searobins.

From a conservation perspective the Leopard Searobins are classified as of Least Concern, being widely distributed and common within their range and having stable populations. They are relatively small and of limited interest to most.

Leopard Searobin, Prionotus scitulus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Placida, Florida, February 2017. Length: 14.0 cm (5.5 inches). Catch courtesy of Josh Olive, Charlotte Harbor, FL. Photo courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Fish identification reconfirmed by H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA with productive discussions with Kenneth Tse, Toronto, Ontario, Canada noted.