Mexican Goatfish

Mexican Goatfish, Mulloidichthys dentatus

The Mexican Goatfish, Mulloidichthys dentatus, whose common Spanish name is chivao barbón, and known locally as chivato, is a species in the Goatfish or Mullidae Family, collectively known as chivos in Mexico. Globally, there are only six species in the genus Mulloidichthys, three of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.

The Mexican Goatfish have elongated, cylindrical, and slightly compressed bodies. The undersides of their head and body are nearly flat. They are yellow to greenish yellow in overall color and whitish ventrally. They have a broad bright yellow mid-lateral stripe with thin blue stripes immediately above and below that run from the eye to the caudal fin. Their deeply forked caudal fin is bright yellow. Their eyes are set high on the head. They feature a small protrusible mouth with small villiform or conical teeth and have two long barbels on their chin, which allow for easy identification. They have two widely spaced dorsal fins, the first with 8 spines and the second with one spine and 8 soft rays, and large pelvic fins located just before the pectoral fin base. They are covered with large rough scales.

The Mexican Goatfish inhabit coral and rocky reefs and adjacent sand and rubble bottoms from the intertidal zone to depths up to 360 feet. They reach a maximum length of 40 cm (15.7 inches); this maximum was established by a fish caught by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area in December 2010. Their barbels have sensory organs utilized for finding food, which consists mainly of small bottom-living animals such as crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and other small invertebrates. During the day, they form large non-feeding schools that commingle with other species and can change color to blend into the school. They also collect at cleaning stations serviced by Butterflyfish, where they hover vertically with their heads down and barbels extended and reportedly change to a darker color to make the parasites more obvious to the cleaners. At night, they feed as individuals. Males also use their barbels to attract females during courtship. When not in use, the barbels are tucked tightly under the chin. Goatfish are pelagic spawners releasing buoyant eggs that travel the currents for several days until hatching.

In Mexican waters the Mexican Goatfish are found in all waters of the Pacific, with the exception that they are absent from the entire west coast of Baja.

The Mexican Goatfish is easy to identify being one of only two Goatfish species found in Mexican waters of the Pacific. It is significantly different in both color and body shape from the Bigscale Goatfish, Pseudupeneus grandisquamis, which is normally found in deep water far off shore.

The Mexican Goatfish are readily accessible from the beach at pre-dawn hours in the greater Los Cabos area at certain times of the year. They are deemed to be of limited value except to substance fishermen and are normally considered a “catch and release.”

Mexican Goatfish, Mulloidichthys dentatus. Fish caught from shore at Los Barriles, Baja California Sur, January 2017. Length: 27 cm (11 inches). Catch and identification courtesy of Ian Franck, New Westminster, British Columbia, Canana. Noteworthy is the red coloration compared to the more typical fish pictured below.

Mexican Goatfish (1)

Mexican Goatfish (3)

Mexican Goatfish, Mulloidichthys dentatus. Fish caught off the beach at Km 21, Cabo Real, Baja California Sur. April 2011. Length: 30 cm (12 inches).

Mexican Goatfish, Mulloidichthys dentatus. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Buena Vista, Baja California Sur, June 2017. Length: 30 cm (12 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.