Painted Greenling, Oxylebius pictus
The Painted Greenling, Oxylebius pictus, whose Spanish common name is molva pinta, is a species in the Greenlings or Hexagrammidae Family, known collectively as molvas in Mexico. Globally, there is just one species in the genus Oxylebius, the species which is found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.
The Painted Greenlings have elongated compressed slender bodies. They are grayish brown with five to seven red or reddish brown bars on their sides that extend into the fins. These bars are absent in breeding males. Some fish are dark with white spots. There are three dark bars that radiate from their eyes, one forward and two backwards. Their throat and their caudal, pectoral, and pelvic fins all have dark spotting. Their head has a pointed snout with two cirri, one above the eyes and the other midway between the eyes and the origin of the dorsal fin. Their anal fin has 3 or 4 spines and 12 to 13 rays with a notch in between; their caudal fin is rounded; their dorsal fin has 16 spines that are shorter than the 14 to 16 rays; and their pelvic fins are of moderate length and do not reach the anal fin base. They have a prominent lateral line and are covered with scales.
The Painted Greenlings are found in rocky areas from the intertidal zone to depths of 740 feet. They reach a maximum length of 25 cm (10 inches). They feed on bryozoans, crustaceans, mollusks, and polychaetes. They have a symbiotic relationship with, and take shelter within, the venomous tentacles of the Fish-Eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora and the White-spotted Anemone, Cribrinopsis albopunctata, as a mechanism to avoid predation. They have a lifespan of up to eight years.
In Mexican waters the Painted Greenlings have a limited range being from from Guerrero Negro northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.
The Painted Greenling is straightforward to identify and cannot be confused with any other species.
The Painted Greenlings are not commonly caught by recreational anglers. They are generally small and therefore of limited interest to most, however, they are commonly encountered in pairs by divers as they hover motionless. They are known to protect their clusters of orange eggs by becoming aggressive towards intruders.
Note: the photo below is miserable. I would appreciate the submission of a quality photo for posting!
Painted Greenling, Oxylebius pictus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Erendira, Baja California, February 2015. Regurgitated by a Bonito. Length: 8.9 cm (3.5 inches). Photo courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.