Mexican Hogfish, Bodianus diplotaenia
The Mexican Hogfish, Bodianus diplotaenia, whose common Spanish name is vieja mexicana, is a member of the Wrasse or Labridae Family, known collectively as doncellas, señoritas, and viejas in Mexico. Globally, there are thirty-eight species in the genus Bodianus, three of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Mexican Hogfish have robust compressed bodies with a depth that is 30 to 38% of standard length; more mature fish have wider bodies. Females and males of the Initial Phase (IP) and juveniles are initially yellow, then transition to reddish and have a pair of broken black stripes along the upper portions of their flanks. Terminal Phase (TP) males are either uniformly bluish-green or red except for their white chin. They have a pronounced hump on their forehead and long anal, caudal, and dorsal lobes. Their head has a pointed snout with a canine tooth at the top of the rear jaw and two pairs of large canines on the front jaw. Their anal fin has three spines and twelve rays; and their dorsal fin has twelve spines and ten rays.
The Mexican Hogfish are coastal residents found in the surge zone at depths of up to 250 feet in and around heavy rock structures. They reach a maximum length of 76 cm (30 inches). They are a solitary non-schooling species and feed diurnally consuming crustaceans, polychaete worms, and mollusks. In turn they are preyed upon by larger bony fish and sharks. Juveniles secrete a fowl-tasting cocoon at night which envelops the fish for protection while sleeping. They are protogynous hermaphrodites with females being able to transform into fully functional males at mid-life. Harems consist of one male and several females with fertilization occurring externally and pelagic eggs developing rapidly.
In Mexican waters the Mexican Hogfish are found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception that they are absent from Cedros Island northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.
The Mexican Hogfish is an esasy species to identify due to its extensive markings and finnage, once it is understood that it comes in a variety of sex-specific colors ranging from bright red to deep purple-black (see photos). Mature males with the pronounced forehead hump can be confused with the California Sheephead, Semicossyphus pulcher and the Bumphead Parrotfish, Scarus perrico, however, both are colored differently and lack the elongated anal, caudal, and dorsal fins.
The Mexican Hogfish are viewed by locals as poor table fare and normally a “catch and release” to all but subsistence fishermen. This species is accessible from the beach by bottom fishing with cut bait, but be prepared for a battle, especially around structures. They are sold on a limited basis by the major markets in the greater Los Cabos area.
Mexican Hogfish, Bodianus diplotaenia, terminal phase (TP), male. Fish caught in coastal waters of Loreto, Baja California Sur, September 2015. Length: 39 cm (15 inches). Photo courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto.
Mexican Hogfish, Bodianus diplotaenia, terminal phase (TP), male. Fish caught in coastal waters of Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja California, June 2016. Length: 54 cm (21 inches). Photo courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.