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.
  • Found at 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!