California Sheephead Wrasse

California Sheephead Wrasse Semicossyphus pulcher

Type of Animal:

Rocky reefs, rocky kelp areas, kelp beds, offshore kelp forests, sandy areas

E Pacific ranging from N California to Gulf of California in Mexico

Females dull pink w/ white underside, males much larger w/ black tail/head, wide reddish orange midriff, red eyes, fleshy forehead bumps, both sexes have white chins/large protruding canine teeth

Urchins, crabs, bivalves, barnacles, bryozoans, lobsters, sea stars, shrimp, squid, sand worms, octopus, sardines, topsmelt, tube-dwelling polychaetes

Status in Wild:

Breeding in aquariums & zoos. California Department of Fish & Game established regulations in 2001 restricting catch size & areas where they may be caught.

Solitary or harems of a male w/ 2-10 females. All born as females w/ more dominant females becoming males (if dominant male present, this doesn’t happen). Sequential hermaphrodites.

Additional Info:

Male: Goat
Female: Female
Young: Fry
Group: School
Male: 25-40 lbs
Female: 15-20 lbs
1-2 days 

Life Span:
20-50 years

Body Length:
Male: 2-3 ft
Female: 1-1.5 ft

Main predators are pinnipeds, giant sea bass, sharks, & bald eagles. Fish-eating birds take smaller females & juveniles.
Threatened due to overfishing, water pollution, habitat degradation, skew towards females, & aquarium trade.
Fishers/anglers often target large males due to size skewing population ratio & weakening genetics. More dominant females transition into males.
Reach maturity at 4 years old, w/ transitioning from female to male depending on size, rank, & male presence.
Active during the day (diurnal).
Keystone species in kelp forests, controlling populations of urchins from overgrazing on kelp & contributing to healthy populations of other fish.
Teeth/jaws designed for prying hard-shelled animals open.
Spawning season occurs from June-September w/ males becoming more territorial during this time.
Transitional phase from female to male lasts from 2 weeks-7 months.

Fun Fact(s):
Get name from appearance of head, especially prevalent in males.
Also called goats, sheepies, red fish, California redfish, humpies, & fatheads.
Large males are known as goats due to “goatee.”
These fish were 1st used in fisheries in late 1800s (for salted fish) w/ peak in late 1920s.From 1940s until 1980s, little interest shown in these fish. By late 1980s, interest in these fish revived due to interest from Asian markets. Smaller younger fish targeted for aquarium use while others for food purposes.
These fish very curious & often friendly (especially males). However, large teeth from an overly curious fish can inflict nasty puncture wounds.
California Sheephead, male, stock photo

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