Abbreviated Life History of Monkeyface Prickleback
(Cebidichthys violaceus)

Monkeyface Prickleback; Photo by Chad King of Simon/NOAA

The monkeyface prickleback is not a true eel, and in the late 1980s it was reclassified to the prickleback family. The coloration is a uniform light brown to black with two characteristic dark stripes below the eye. The coloration of both sexes is similar.

Distribution, Stock Structure and Migration

Populations range along the eastern Pacific coast from San Quintin Bay, Baja California to southern Oregon. They normally occur nearshore and their depth range extends from the intertidal to 80 ft. They are considered to be a residential species and exhibit only small movements from under rocks to foraging sites.

Age and Growth

Monkeyface pricklebacks have relatively slower growth rates than most fishes. They have been aged to a maximum of 18 years. The largest recorded size is 30 in. in TL.

Reproduction, Fecundity and Seasonality

Information available on age at sexual maturity suggests that in California both sexes begin to mature in their third or fourth year at a total length range of 11.0 to 14.2 in., while 50% maturity occurs at approximately 15.4 in. at five yr of age. Fertilized eggs are present in females and spawning activity occurs from January to May, while the peak spawning period is February to April. Females are oviparous, meaning they lay or spawn eggs. Females spawn their eggs on subtidal, rocky surfaces. Nest guarding behavior has been observed, but it is unclear if males, females or both sexes guard eggs.

Predator/Prey Relationships

The diet of monkeyface pricklebacks varies from carnivorous to omnivorous to herbivorous, depending on life history stage and time of year. As early juveniles, prey items are predominantly zooplankton. Adults prefer annual red and green algal species. Predators of monkeyface pricklebacks include piscivorous birds such as great egrets and red-breasted mergansers, and fishes such as cabezon and grass rockfish.


Other crevice dwelling fishes such as the black prickleback, high cockscomb and gunnels, such as the rockweed gunnel, may compete with the monkeyface prickleback for space and resources.

Critical Habitat

Typical habitat for monkeyface pricklebacks includes rocky areas with ample crevices, including high and low intertidal tide pools, jetties and breakwaters, and relatively shallow subtidal areas, particularly kelp beds. Juveniles are particularly adapted for the high intertidal area, and this species has air-breathing capabilities.

Status of Stocks

No information is available on the status of stocks of monkeyface pricklebacks.

Information on this page was originally presented in the Nearshore Fishery Management Plan (these profiles updated July, 2010).

Monkeyface Prickleback