Monkeyface Prickleback

Monkeyface Prickleback, Cebidichthys violaceus

The Monkeyface Prickleback, Cebidichthys violaceus, whose common Spanish name is abrojo cara de mono, is a member of the Prickleback or Stichaeidae Family, known collectively as peces abrojo in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Monkeyface Eel. Globally, the Stichaeidae Family includes 71 species placed in 35 genera with one global species in the genus Cebidichthys, which is found in Mexican waters of the Pacific and is described here.

The Monkeyface Pricklebacks have elongated eel-like bodies. They vary in color from uniform light brown to dark green with some fish having orange spots on their body and orange-colored fins with orange tips. Males and females are similar in color and appearance. Their head has a bluntly rounded snout, large fleshy lips, and two black lines that radiate from behind the eyes. Their dorsal fin runs along the length of the back.

The Monkeyface Pricklebacks are a common inshore non-migratory species found demersal in tidal pools, shallow rocky areas, and kelp beds from the intertidal zone to depths up to 80 feet. They have a slow growth rate. Males are larger than females and reach a maximum length of 76 cm (2 feet 6 inches) and weight of 2.7 kg (6 pounds). They have the somewhat unique characteristic of being able to remain out of water for up to 35 hours under rocks or within seaweed due to their ability to breathe air. Juveniles consume crustaceans and zooplankton and adults are herbivores and consume algae. They are preyed upon by other fish and shore birds. Reproduction is oviparous with nests placed in rock crevices. Fertilization is internal with each female laying up to 46,000 eggs annually, which are guarded by both parents. They have a lifespan of up to 18 years.

In Mexican waters the Monkeyface Pricklebacks have a limited distribution and are found from San Quintin northward along the northwest coast of Baja.

The Monkeyface Prickleback is straightforward to identify and cannot easily be confused with any other species.

The Monkeyface Pricklebacks are pursued and caught by recreational anglers within coastal tidal pools. They are also often found by “tidal-poolers” under overturned rocks. They are considered an excellent food fish by subsistence fishermen and were a mainstay of Native Americans along the California coast. They are sold by the aquarium trade and available online on a limited basis. From a conservation perspective they are of limited interest and have not been evaluated.

Monkeyface Prickleback, Cebidichthys violaceus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Half Moon Bay, California, July 2012. Length: 28 cm (11 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Kenneth Tse, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.