Mexican Goatfish, Mulloidichthys dentatus
The Mexican Goatfish, Mulloidichthys dentatus, whose common Spanish name is chivao barbón, and known locally as chivato, is a species in the family Mullidae, the Goatfishes, known as chivos in Mexico. Globally, there are only six species in the genus Mulloidichthys, of which three are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Mexican Goatfish have elongated, cylindrical, and slightly compressed bodies. The undersides of their head and body are nearly flat. They are yellow to greenish yellow in overall color and whitish ventrally. They have a broad bright yellow mid-lateral stripe with thin blue stripes immediately above and below that run from the eye to the caudal fin. Their deeply forked caudal fin is bright yellow. Their eyes are set high on the head. They feature a small protrusible mouth with small villiform or conical teeth and have two long barbels on their chin, which allow for easy identification. They have two widely spaced dorsal fins, the first with eight spines and the second with one spine and eight soft rays. They have large pelvic fins located just before the pectoral fin base. They are covered with large rough scales.
The Mexican Goatfish inhabit coral and rocky reefs and adjacent sand and rubble bottoms from the intertidal zone to depths up to 360 feet. They are found in all Mexican waters of the Pacific, but are absent from the west coast of Baja.
The Mexican Goatfish reach a maximum length of 40 cm (15.7 inches); this maximum was established by a fish caught by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area in December 2010. Their barbels have sensory organs utilized for finding food, which consists mainly of small bottom-living animals such as crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and other small invertebrates. During the day, they form large non-feeding schools comingling with other species and can change color to blend into the school. They also collect at cleaning stations serviced by Butterflyfish, where they hover vertically with their heads down and barbels extended and reportedly change to a darker color to make the parasites more obvious to the cleaners. At night, they feed as individuals. Males also use their barbels to attract females during courtship. When not in use, the barbels are tucked tightly under the chin. Goatfish are pelagic spawners releasing buoyant eggs that travel the currents for several days until hatching.
The Mexican Goatfish is easy to identify being one of only two Goatfish species found in Mexican waters of the Pacific. It is significantly different in both color and body shape from the Bigscale Goatfish, Pseudupeneus grandisquamis, which is normally found in deep water far off shore.
The Mexican Goatfish are readily accessible from the beach at pre-dawn hours in the greater Los Cabos area at certain times of the year. They are deemed to be of limited value except to substance fishermen and are normally considered a “catch and release.”
Mexican Goatfish, Mulloidichthys dentatus: Caught out of the surf fairly frequently during early morning hours Km 21, Cabo Real, Baja California Sur utilizing traditional surf gear. The majority of catches are a standard length of 30 cm (12 inches). The Mexican Goatfish, upon collection, is simply a gorgeous species.