Sarcastic Fringehead, Neoclinus blanchardi
The Sarcastic Fringehead, Neoclinus blanchardi, whose common Spanish name is tubícola chusco, is a member of the Tube Blenny or Chaenopsidae Family, known collectively as trambollos tubícolas in Mexico. Their common name is derived from their temperament. Globally, there are eleven species in the genus Neoclinus, three of which are found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.
The Sarcastic Fringeheads have elongated, slender, and moderately compressed bodies. They are brown overall with a red tinge and green or pale blotches. They have two ocelli, one between the first and second dorsal spines and another in the middle of the spinous portion of the dorsal fin. They are sexually dimorphic with males being very dark in color with bright yellow at the rear of their jaw and a pale spot on their cheeks; in addition, the ocellus on their dorsal fin is metallic blue and surrounded by a golden ring. They have a very large head with cirri over their eyes, a bluntly rounded snout, and a very large mouth that extends well past their eyes. They have prominent lips and numerous needle-like teeth. Males have a larger mouth than females. Their anal fin is long with two spines and 26 to 30 rays; their caudal fin is rounded; their dorsal fin is long with 23 to 27 spines and 15 to 18 rays and extends from the rear of the head to the base of the tail; their pectoral fins are large and fan-like; and their pelvic fins are small. They have 12 to 14 gill rakers.
The Sarcastic Fringeheads are found along open coastlines on sandy or hard muddy bottoms outside the breaker zone at depths between 10 and 240 feet. They reach a maximum length of 30.5 cm (12 inches). They live in various types of shelter, which they enter tail first with only their head exposed; their shelters include clam and snail shells, abandoned burrows, cracks in rock outcroppings, and human trash such as cans and bottles. They are known to have very poor eyesight and to exhibit fearless and extremely aggressive behavior, thus will attack anything large or small that approaches their burrows. They are ambush predators capable of short, rapid, and darting movements and feed primarily on crustaceans. Reproduction is oviparous with each female depositing 1,000 to 10,000 eggs in clam burrows under rocks that contain sticky material to allow the eggs to attach themselves to the substrate before being fertilized by the males. Males guard the eggs until they hatch. They have a lifespan of up to 6 years. They are poorly studied and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Sarcastic Fringeheads are found from Cedros Island northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.
The Sarcastic Fringehead cannot be easily confused with any other species due to its unique markings and body shape.
The Sarcastic Fringeheads are occasionally and accidentally caught by commercial fishermen and recreational anglers but are difficult to handle due to their teeth. They have also been known to attack divers. There is a series of exceptional videos of the Sarcastic Fringehead available via a Google search which include turf wars where two fish are involved in “mouth wrestling”. Due to their size and rarity, they are of limited interest to most with the exception of underwater photographers. From a conservation perspective, they are considered of Least Concern, being widespread but somewhat uncommon.
Sarcastic Fringehead, Neoclinus blanchardi. Fish caught from coastal waters off Long Beach, California, August 2016. Length: 26 cm (10 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL. Identification reconfirmed by Dr. Phil Hastings, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.