Spotted Cusk-eel

Spotted Cusk-eel, Chilara taylori

The Spotted Cusk-eel, Chilara taylori, whose common Spanish name is congriperla moteada, is a species in the Cusk Eel or Ophidiidae Family, known collectively as brotula and congriperlass in Mexico. This fish is the only species in the genus Chilara,  and it is found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.

The Spotted Cusk-eels have elongated compressed bodies that taper to a point at the rear – a top scientist even described them as resembling a letter opener. They are a uniform creamy brown color and their head and body are covered with large dark spots that form three or four rows along the body. Their anal and dorsal fins have black margins. Their head and overhanging snout are rounded and their mouth and eyes are medium-sized. Their anal and dorsal fin bases are long and continuous with their pointed caudal fin; the dorsal fin is longer and originates before the anal fin. Their pelvic fins each have a pair of small threads of unequal length inserted under the eyes. They lack the strong snout spine that is found in most other Cusk-eels. Their body is covered with small round scales.

The Spotted Cusk-eels inhabit sandy and muddy bottoms and are found demersal in burrows they enter into tail first, at depths up to 2,400 feet. They reach a maximum length of 40 cm (16 inches). They hide in caves during the daytime and only emerge at night to feed on crustaceans, polychaete worms, small clams, and other invertebrates. In turn, they are preyed upon by gulls, porpoises, and seals.Fossil remains of the Spotted Cusk-eels were found in Southern California indicative that this species has been present since the Pliocene Epoch (1.8 to 5.3 million years ago).

In Mexican waters the Spotted Cusk-eels have a limited distribution being found only along the west coast of Baja from Todos Santos northward along the southwest, central, and northwest coasts of Baja with the first pictured below establishing the southerly range for this species.

The Spotted Cusk-eels are most easily confused with the Leopard Cusk-eel, Lepophidium pardale (large black blotches) and the Spotfin Cusk-eel, Ophidion galeoides (broken brown stripe along lateral line; dark blotch at front of dorsal fin). They are obtained as a by-catch of deep water trawlers and by hook and line by commercial fishermen in the greater Los Cabos area, but are too rare and too small to be of commercial interest. They are seldom seen by humans and are of limited interest to most.

Spotted Cusk Eel (1)

Spotted Cusk Eel, Chilara taylori. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Loma, Califonria, April 2008. Length: 25 cm (9.8 inches). Catch courtesy of Eddie Kisfaludy, Scripps Instituion of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA. Fish identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.

Spotted Cusk Eel

Spotted Cusk-eel, Chilara taylori. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, June 2013. Length: 33 cm (13 inches); tail 62% of total length.