Squirrelfish

Squirrelfish, Holocentrus adscensionis

The Squirrelfish, Holocentrus adscensionis, whose common Spanish name is candil de vidrio, is a member of the Squirrelfish or Holocentridae Family, known collective as candiles in Mexico. Globally, there are only two species in the genus Holocentrus, both found in Mexican waters of the Atlantic.

The Squirrelfish have oblong fusiform compressed “perch-like” bodies with a depth that is 29 to 31% of standard length. They are pink on their upper head and body and white ventrally. They have light silvery stripes that follow the scales rows and a white streak extending diagonally across their cheeks. Some fish have a white blotch at the rear. Their spiny dorsal fin is yellowish with white blotches between the tips. Their anal, caudal, soft dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins are pinkish-white. Their caudal fin base is white. They have a pointed head, very large eyes with red pupils, and a large mouth that opens in the front and extends to the middle of the eyes. They are equipped with small villiform teeth found on the jaws and roof of the mouth. The corner of their gill cover has a large long spine. Their anal fin has 3 or 4 spines and 10 rays; their caudal fin is deeply forked with an elongated upper lobe and pointed tips; and their dorsal fin is continuous with 11 spines and 14 to 16 rays with the ray portion being elongated. They have 15 to 18 gill rakers. Their lateral line is complete and their body is covered with large rough scales that give them a sandpaper-like feel.

The Squirrelfish are found from the surge zone to depths up to 800 feet; adults are solitary individuals found in and around shallow coral reefs as well as in deeper waters whereas juveniles are found in small aggregations. They reach a maximum length of 61 cm (24 inches). They are nocturnal and feed primarily on meroplankton (crab larvae and shrimp larvae), small crustaceans, and fish. They hide in small caves within rock structures to avoid predation during daylight hours. They are preyed upon primarily by Dorado, Longlure Frogfish, Mutton Snapper, and Yellowfin Tuna along with various sea birds. Reproduction is believed to involve batch spawning, with each female releasing 50,000 to 250,000 eggs in open water and pelagic eggs and larvae settling out in several weeks. They have the ability to produce sound via their swim bladder, which is believed to be used for intra-species communications.

In Mexican waters the Squirrelfish are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Squirrelfish is most likely confused with the Longspine Squirrelfish, Holocentrus rufus (very elongated top caudal fin lobe; ray portion of dorsal fin).

The Squirrelfish are easily caught via handlines, gill nets, and traps. Although small in stature they are considered an excellent food fish and are a mainstay in the diet of subsistence fishermen. They are marketed fresh on a limited basis in some countries of South America. They are also popular fish in public aquariums because of their availability, bright red color, large eyes, and hardiness.

Squirrelfish, Holocentrus adscensionis. Fish caught out from coastal waters off  Puerto Morelos, Quntana Roo, Mexico, March 2012. Length: 25 cm (9.8 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Squirrelfish, Holocentrus adscensionis. Fish caught off a coastal pier in Key Largo, Florida, December 2013. Length: 14.8 cm (5.8 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.