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#4200-6270 University Blvd.
Vancouver, BC

Functional morphologist and evolutionary biologist


Monkeyface Project & Horn Lab Visit

Vikram Baliga

One of my ongoing sideprojects involves understanding the cranial morphology of the monkeyface prickleback, Cebidichthys violaceus. This species is found along the Pacific coast, ranging from Oregon to Baja California, and inhabiting rocky intertidal and tidepool habitats. Commonly confused with being a type of eel (it's even known as the monkeyface eel), this species is actually a member of Stichaeidae, a family found in the Perciform order. Famous for their distinct, lumpy foreheads, these fish are often caught by anglers using a method called "poke-poling".

A face only a mother could love: a rather large specimen of monkeyface prickleback (Cebidichthys violaceus).

In my ongoing quest to know more about this local species, I came across the work of Dr. Michael Horn, of Cal State Fullerton (CSUF), who has spent much of his life documenting the dietary trends of the Stichaeids of the California coast. In particular, Horn noted that the monkeyface prickleback undergoes a dramatic shift in diet over ontogeny: it goes through a carnivorous stage as a juvenile before making a transition to herbivory as it grows longer than 45mm standard length. A series of papers from the 2000s by Horn and colleagues highlight the fascinating trends in gut morphology and enzymatic activity of this Stichaeid.

This summer, Dr. Horn was kind enough to invite me to his lab at CSUF so that I may view his collection of monkeyface pricklebacks. He has quite a large collection of Stichaeids caught from tidepools, with some jars dating back to the early '70s. I learned a lot from this experience, especially when it comes to eying the subtle differences between C. violaceus and its close cousin Xiphister atropurpureus, the black prickleback (which I will highlight in my next post).

San Simeon, CA seems to be a pretty good site to find monkeyface pricklebacks.

Monkeyface measuring!

This black prickleback doesn't look too happy to have been stuck in a jar of
ISO for the last 30 years. Also, I think he looks a little bit like Jason Segal.