Pacific Stargazer, Astroscopus zephyreus
The Pacific Stargazer, Astroscopus zephyreus, whose common Spanish name is miracielo perro, is a member of the Stargazer or Uranoscopidae Family, known collectively as miracielos in Mexico. Globally, there are only four species in the genus Astroscopus, two of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Pacific Stargazers have robust bodies that taper from the mid-body to the tail. They are grayish-brown dorsally and transition to white ventrally. Their head and body are covered with numerous small white spots. Their anal, pectoral, and pelvic fins are white. Their caudal and dorsal fins are dark. Their head is flattened and disproportionately large. They have small eyes that point skyward and a large vertical mouth. They have a pair of electric organs located directly behind their eyes and a blunt spine on the corner of their gill covers. Their anal fin lacks spines. They have two dorsal fins that are set close together; the first has 4 spines and one ray and the second has 12 rays. Their pectoral fins are simply ginormous. They have a continuous lateral line and are covered with small scales.
The Pacific Stargazers are a solitary benthic coastal species normally found submerged in substrate (beaches, sand bottoms, and soft bottom habitats in mangroves and estuaries) at depths between 25 and 1,265 feet. They reach a maximum length of 56 cm (22 inches), which was established by the fish photographed below. They are ambush predators that lie in wait with only their eyes exposed; they consume small invertebrates and small fish. They are poorly studied and little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Pacific Stargazers are found in all waters of the Pacific.
The Pacific Stargazer can be confused with the Smooth Stargazer, Kathetostoma averruncus (large eyes; first dorsal fin does not have spines; large white spots on body, caudal, and dorsal fins).
The Pacific Stargazers are a large fish but seldom seen by humans and of limited interest to most. They are consumed by locals on a limited basis and are reported to make good sushi but due to the venom present in this fish I do not recommend human consumption. A word of caution! The Pacific Stargazers have a pair of large poisonous spines, with a venom gland located immediately above their pectoral fins and behind their gill covers. Venom from these fish has been reported to cause death in humans, therefore handling of this species should be avoided. They are also capable of delivering electrical shocks of up to 50 volts. From a conservation perspective they are currently considered of Least Concern. They are prone to habitat loss, including mangroves, from coastal development.
Pacific Stargazer, Astroscopus zephyreus. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, February 2008. Length 56 cm (22 inches).
Pacific Stargazer, Astroscopus zephyreus. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, March 2012. Length: 41 cm (16 inches).