Pacific Bearded Brotula, Brotula clarkae
The Pacific Bearded Brotula, Brotula clarkae, whose common Spanish name is lengua rosada and local name is “lengua grouper,” (groupers command higher wholesale prices than eel’s!), is a species in the Cusk Eel or Ophidiidae Family, known collectively as brotula and congriperlass in Mexico. Globally, there are only five species in the genus Brotula, three of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Pacific Bearded Brotula has an elongated relatively deep compressed body that tapers toward the rear. The adults are a uniform reddish brown that becomes slightly lighter ventrally and slightly darker toward the caudal fin; juveniles have a dark stripe on the head behind the eye and numerous large dark brown spots on the body. The head has large eyes, a nostril that is halfway between the top lip and the rear nostril, large mouths and large gill openings. There are three short barbels on each side of the snout and 3 barbels on each side of the lower jaw. The anal and dorsal fin bases are long and continuous with the caudal fin with the dorsal fin being longer and originating before the anal fin. They have 27 or 28 pectoral rays. Each pelvic fin is a two-rayed filament that is found under the throat. The body is covered with small smooth scales.
The Pacific Bearded Brotula inhabits rocky reefs and adjacent sand bottoms and is found at depths up to 2,100 feet. The adults are benthopelagic being able to suspend themselves above the bottom and the juveniles are common on reefs. They reach a maximum length of 1.15 meters (3 feet 9 inches). They are rarely seen by humans because they hide in caves during the daytime and emerge to feed on crustaceans, polychaete worms, small clams and other invertebrates at night.
In Mexican waters the Pacific Bearded Brotula are found in all waters of the Pacific.
The Pacific Bearded Brotula is the only Cusk Eel found in Mexican waters that is larger than 46 cm (18 inches). They are most likely confused with the Fore-Spotted Cusk Eel, Brotula ordwayi (small black spots on the front of the body).
The Pacific Bearded Brotula are sold commercially on a very limited basis as “Lengua Grouper”. They are seldom seen and of limited interest to humans being obtained as a by-catch of deep water trawlers and by hook and line by commercial fishermen in the greater Los Cabos area.
Pacific Bearded Brotula, Juvenile, Brotula clarkae. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of Bahía Kino, Sonora, January 2015. Length: 28 cm (11 inches). Photo courtesy of Maria Johnson, Prescott College Kino Bay Center, Kino Bay, Sonora. Identification courtesy of Chris Weaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.
Pacific Bearded Brotula, Brotula clarkae. Fish caught from coastal waters off San Carlos, Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, May 2014. Length: 79 cm (31 inches). Catch and photos courtesy of David Aller, Phoenix, AZ.