California Sheephead (Female)
Semicossyphus pulcher

Physical Description

  • Adult females look very different than males (#22)
  • Adult females are fully pink with white underbelly
  • Adult females are smaller than males
  • Can grow to be 3 feet long and weigh 35 pounds
  • Protruding teeth used to prey on hard-shelled organisms
  • Juveniles are bright reddish-orange with large black spots on fins and a white stripe down their side


  • Point Conception, California to Guadalupe Island, Baja California, Mexico
  • Gulf of California, Mexico


  • Found in rocky reefs and kelp forests
  • Depths of 10-100 feet


  • Mating season is June to September
  • During mating season the male becomes territorial of its spawning territory
  • Dominant male leads female in circular pattern as they broadcast sperm and eggs into the water
  • If a smaller male approaches, the larger male will chase him away
  • The female can spawn up to 375,000 eggs in one day


  • Sea urchins, bivalves, barnacles, and bryozoans (microscopic aquatic invertebrates)


  • Harbor seals and sea lions

Interesting Facts

  • California sheephead are all born female but often become male later in life!
  • They can live to be 53 years old, which is very old for a fish.
  • At night, they hide in crevices and wrap themselves in a mucus cocoon to hide their scent from predators.
  • Sheepshead often get a parasitic flatworm, but the mutualistic señorita fish will clean it off of their skin and gills.

Sources: California Sea Grant; Monterey Bay Aquarium

Photo: Howard Hall

Try to spot a live Sheephead on Birch Aquarium’s Kelp Cam!

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