Tinsel Squirrelfish

Tinsel Squirrelfish, Neoniphon suborbitalis

The Tinsel Squirrelfish, Neoniphon suborbitalis, whose common Spanish name is candil sol, is a member of the Squirrelfish or Holocentridae Family, known collectively as candiles in Mexico. This species has recently been reclassified from the genus Sargocentron to the genus Neoniphon. Globally, there are twelve species in the genus Neoniphon, three of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Tinsel Squirrelfish have ovate fusiform compressed bodies with a depth that is 35 to 37% of standard length. Their head and upper body are silvery with a violet hue and their scale margins are dark and more prominent dorsally. They have a white line under their eyes and along the front of their gill cover. Their head has a pointed snout, very large eyes, and a small oblique mouth that extends to the front of the eyes. Their gill covers have two or three spines; one being long and stout and located at the lower rear corner and one or two on the edge. Their anal fin has 4 spines, with the third being long and stout, and 9 rays; their caudal fin is forked; their dorsal fin has 11 spines, with a notch before the 13 to 14 rays; and their pelvic fins have 7 rays. They are covered with large rough scales.

The Tinsel Squirrelfish are found in and around shallow coral reefs and rocky structures from the surge zone to depths up to 80 feet. They reach a maximum length of 25 cm (10 inches). They are generally solitary and nocturnal, hiding in crevices and caves during the daytime and emerging at night to hunt small crustaceans. Reproduction is believed to involve batch spawning, with each female releasing eggs in open water that are fertilized externally; the pelagic eggs and larvae settle out in several weeks. They are a poorly studied species and little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Tinsel Squirrelfish have a limited distribution being found in the lower two-thirds of the Sea of Cortez and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala. They are absent from the Pacific side of the Baja.

The Tinsel Squirrelfish is most likely confused with the Panamic Soldierfish, Myripristis leiognathus (red color; larger eyes; lacking elongated third anal spine).

The Tinsel Squirrelfish are small in stature, dangerous to handle, and of limited interest to most.

A word of caution! The Tinsel Squirrelfish is perhaps the animal with the best self-protection on the globe. It is armed with razor sharp dorsal fins which most anglers are not prepared for. It also has a massive spike as its third anal ray and truly lethal spines on its gill covers and on the lower rear corner of its cheeks. If you get gaffed by this fish the blood will immediately gush from the wound and the pain will be intense and last for perhaps six hours.

Tinsel Squirrelfish, Neoniphon suborbitalis. Fish caught off the beach at  Cabo Real, Baja California Sur, November 2015. Length: 15 cm (5.9 inches). Smaller 5.0 cm (2.0 inch) juveniles are readily available from tidal pools at low tide in the same general area.

Tinsel Squirelfish (2)

Tinsel Squirelfish (3)Tinsel Squirrelfish, Neoniphon suborbitalis. Fish caught off the beach at  Cabo Real, Baja California Sur, March 2016. Length: 16 cm (6.3 inches). Noteworthy is the fairly long spine that extends from the gill cover that can been seen in the above photo; that spine will cut human fingers to shreds while inflicting great pain.