Queen Triggerfish, Balistes vetula
The Queen Triggerfish, Balistes vetula, whose common Spanish name is cochino, is a species in the Triggerfish or Balistidae Family, known collectively as cochitos in Mexico. Globally, there are only seven species in the genus Balistes, three of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Queen Triggerfish have robust, compressed, oblong, and relatively deep bodies with a depth that is 52 to 56% of standard length. They are distinctively colored with various shades of purple, green, yellow, and brown on their back and yellow-orange on the lower portions of their head and abdomen. They have two wide oblique bright blue bands extending from their snout to below and in front of their pectoral fins as well as blue lines with yellow borders radiating from their eyes; the lower band is continuous with a blue ring around their lips. They also have a blue bar across their caudal peduncle. The edges of their anal, caudal, and dorsal fins are blue. They have the ability to change colors to adapt to their surroundings or when under stress or breeding. Juveniles are paler in color being gray-brown with blue oblique lines across their head; the sides of their body are dashed with oblique black lines and they also have shorter fins than adults. Their head has a small mouth that opens at the front and is equipped with eight hefty outer teeth on the upper and lower jaws and small notched teeth that are longer and pointed. They have small eyes that are set well back on top of their head. Their anal fin lacks spines and has 27 to 29 rays. Their caudal fin is doubly concave and crescent-shaped and has long trailing filaments. Their first dorsal fin has three spines; the first spine is very elongated and can be locked erect. Their second dorsal fin has 29 to 32 rays. Both anal and dorsal rays are elongated and taper posteriorly. Their lateral line is inconspicuous. They are covered with scales and thick leathery skin.
The Queen Triggerfish are typically a demersal shallow water species found off-shore within coral and rocky reefs adjacent to sandy and seagrass beds at depths up to 100 feet but they can also be found at depths up to 900 feet. They reach a maximum 60 cm (24 inches) in length and 6.2 kg (13.6 pounds) in weight; males and females are of similar sizes. They are found either as solitary individuals or in small groups. Adults are found in deeper waters than juveniles. They are active diurnally and feed primarily on benthic invertebrates including bivalves, crabs, macroalgae, polychaete worms, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, shrimp, and starfish. At night, they wedge themselves into crevices within the reef for protection from predation. They are preyed upon by larger reef fish including groupers, jacks, and sharks. They have the ability to produce sound which is believed to be used for communication. Reproduction is oviparous and occurs in harems of one male and up to six females. Males prepare up to a dozen nests in hollows blown out of sandy seabed and then patrol the area, driving unwanted fish away. Females can release eggs in the nests throughout the year and these eggs are then fertilized by males. The eggs are protected by both parents and the hatched larvae become pelagic. They have a lifespan of up to 16 years.
In Mexican waters the Queen Triggerfish are found in all waters of the Atlantic.
The Queen Triggerfish is an easy fish to identify due to the pattern of blue bands on its head and caudal fin base, thus cannot be confused with any other species .
The Queen Triggerfish are caught by both commercial and recreational fishermen. They are taken commercially by hook and line, longlines, bottom trawls, and traps and recreationally by hook and line and spearfishermen. They are considered an excellent food fish, however, there are reports that they are poisonous. A word of caution: these guys can BITE! From a conservation perspective they are currently considered Vulnerable due to overfishing with steady declines in catch levels since 1990. They are unprotected within the ranges where they are under heavy fishing pressure. Due to their beauty and fun and interesting personality, they are found in public aquariums. They can be purchased directly from the internet with prices approaching $149.99 per fish. However, they are not suitable for small aquariums due to their aggressive behavior, need for hiding places, and large size. When encountered by divers that are shy and quickly depart, however, they are aggressive during breeding season. Parts of the Queen Triggerfish are used in traditional medicine in certain parts of Brazil for the treatment of asthma, earaches, and stroke.
Queen Triggerfish, Balistes vetula. Fish caught from coastal waters off Hopetown, Bahamas, March 2004. Length: 66 cm (26 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.