California tonguefish

Symphurus atricaudus family

Cynoglossidae taxonomy

Aphoristia atricauda Jordan and Gilbert, 1880, San Diego Bay, California.

other common names

French: Langue californienne; Spanish: Lengua de perra.

physical characteristics

Small, sinistral flatfish with the characteristic tonguefish teardrop-shaped body terminating posteriorly in a point without a distinct caudal fin. The small head has a pointed snout. The small eyes are set close together. A small, subterminal mouth

with small teeth best developed on the jaws of the blind side. Dorsal and anal fins are conjoined with the caudal fin, forming one continuous fin around nearly the entire body. Lacks a lateral line on either side of the body, lacks pectoral fins in adults, and has a pelvic fin only on the ocular side. Ocular side is uniformly medium to dark brown, with a series of complete or incomplete darker crossbands and with the posterior fifth of the body much darker than the anterior regions. Blind side is uniformly whitish or yellowish. Reach lengths to about 8.3 in (21 cm), but most are smaller, usually averaging only about 5 in (13 cm). Little is known concerning longevity, growth rates, or population structure of this species.


Inner continental shelf of the eastern Pacific from Washington to the Pacific side of Baja California Sur and along the western shore of Sonora and Sinaloa, Mexico.


Sand or mud bottoms at depths ranging from 9.8 to 328 ft (3-100 m), with most adults taken between 98.4 and 262.5 ft (30-80 m). Juveniles tend to inhabit shallower waters than do adults.


Little is known. Probably nocturnally active and also active at other periods of low-light levels. During the daytime it remains partially or totally buried in the sediment, except for the anterior head region.

feeding ecology and diet

Consume a variety of small benthic invertebrates, including harpacticoid copepods, amphipods, ostracods, nematodes, small bivalve mollusks, and polychaetes. Predators of California tonguefish include sharks, electric rays, stingrays, and various bony fishes.

reproductive biology

Little is known. They spawn planktonic eggs from June to September; larvae hatch at about 0.08 in (2 mm). Larvae transform between 0.7 and 1 in (19 and 25 mm) in length and settle to the bottom during late fall and winter. Probably a serial spawner, producing several batches of eggs during a protracted spawning season.

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

Of little commercial value, owing to its small size. ♦

rounded, almost square caudal fin. Eyes are large, with the lower eye in advance of the upper eye and separated from it by a sharp, naked bony ridge. Pectoral fins are large and pointed. Lateral line is nearly straight. Scales are ctenoid on the ocular side of the body and cycloid on the blind side. Ocular side is a dull light brown, mottled with brown or black and sometimes yellow to orange speckles or white spots. Blind side is off-white to tan. Maximum lengths of about 16.1 in (41 cm) and weights up to about 2 lb (0.9 kg), but most are much smaller, only 4.9-5.6 oz (140-160 g). They live to be at least eight years of age.


Marine waters in the northern Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Japan to the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands south to Cape San Lucas, Baja California.


Adults inhabit gravel, sand, or mud-sand bottoms at 16.4-1,801 ft (5-549 m) but are most abundant at 164-492 ft (50-150 m); they rarely occur below 984 ft (300 m). Juveniles occur at shallower depths than those occupied by adults and sometimes move into tide pools.


Diurnally active. Spend much of their time on the bottom, although occasionally they are captured at night up in the water column.

feeding ecology and diet

Opportunistic, visually oriented predators that feed principally on pelagic crustaceans, such as euphausiids, shrimps, crab larvae, calanoid copepods and amphipods, and occasionally small fishes and benthic prey, among them, annelid worms and crustaceans. Pacific sanddabs are consumed by a variety of larger predators, including blue sharks and other sharks, stingrays, and halibut, and also have appeared in the diets of Guadalupe fur seals.

reproductive biology

Begin maturing between ages two and three years. Spawning takes place on or near the bottom from July to September off California. Eggs are released independently, are buoyant, and are fertilized outside the female. Females may spawn more than once during the same spawning season.

Citharichthys sordidus Hippoglossus stenolepis

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