You may recognize me by my distinctive black and red coloring! Plus, I’m often the very biggest, toothiest thing in the kelp forest. I like to hang out with small groups of my friends along the rocky coastline of California. By day you can find me foraging around for food, but at night I cover myself in a coating of mucus and park myself under rocks or in crevices to protect myself from predators.
We’re pretty popular with the fishermen. Both anglers and spearfishermen try to find us, and sometimes we’re caught live for aquariums. In 2009, fishermen made almost $334,000 in revenue from catching us. While we help out the fishing industry as a tasty fish to sell, it’s important that there are still enough of us left in the ocean. We’re a keystone species and have an essential role in the kelp forests. The fact that especially large sheephead are targeted by anglers may make us more vulnerable to fishing-induced population changes.
Did You Know?
All of us start out as females! We are born as females and some of us change to males as adults. I, like most of my friends, am part of a harem, where one dominant male travels around with many females. If he dies or leaves the group, one of us will switch from female to male and take his place. Scientists say our gender-bending behavior could lead to reproduction problems since anglers like to take the big, male ones.
I’m what’s known as a keystone predator, meaning I serve a very important role in the ecosystem! I love to eat, which apparently is pretty helpful to kelp forests. By feeding on lobsters and grazers like urchins and gastropod mollusks, I keep them from overgrazing on kelp. That way, I help keep the forest healthy and in balance.