Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

California Sheephead

Semicossyphus pulcher


Fun Facts

    The California sheephead are all born as females.

    This fish begins life as a female, but may become a male later in life.



The California sheephead is a type of wrasse that lives in kelp beds and rocky reef areas.  California sheephead occur from Central California to Baja Mexico. This species is one of very few sexually dimorphic species in Southern California. Males are identified by their black tail and head, while females are all pinkish-red.  They can grow up to 3 feet in length.
California sheephead feed on sea urchins, mollusks, lobsters and crabs using their prominent canine teeth to pry and crush. Their pharyngeal teeth continue crushing as they swallow.  Considered very good eating, their numbers have declined drastically off Southern California. This fish can change sex from female to male during maturation (at about 1 foot in length or 8 years of age) and can live up to 50 years. Males are very territorial and are often observed chasing away smaller males.  Large males often have 10 to 15 females within their territory.
California sheephead are usually found at the Aquarium in tank numbers 16, 21, 33 and in the Tidepool Touch Tank.