Serranus hepatus

Family : Serranidae


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Text © Giuseppe Mazza



English translation by Mario Beltramini



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Serranus hepatus is the smallest Mediterranean member of the Serranidae family © Giuseppe Mazza

The Brown comber ( Serranus hepatus - Linnaeus, 1758 ) belongs to the class of Actinopterygii, the ray-finned fishes, to the order of Perciformes and to the family of Serranidae.

The name of the genus comes from the Latin “serra” = saw, with reference to the saw-toothed dorsal fin, not to forget the various spines.

The name of the species comes from the Latin “hepar, hépatis” = liver, of the liver, with reference to the dominant colour.


It is present in the Mediterranean and, after Gibraltar Strait, along the eastern Atlantic coast, from the Biscay Gulf up to Senegal, Canary Islands included.


It can be met along the coasts, among the rocks, in the Posidonias ( Posidonia oceanica ) prairies, but usually it prefers the muddy and detrital sea-beds, even if it seldom goes down under the 100 m. It mainly carries on a solitary life.


It is the smallest Mediterranean member of the family of the Serranidae. Even if they have caught record 25 cm specimens, it usually measures 15 cm, and even less along the Italian coasts, where it contents of 10-12 cm.

The stocky body is more rounded than that of the Serranus scriba and of the Serranus cabrilla but has the same spiny structure. Only one dorsal with 10 spiny rays, the third taller and then decreasing for emphasizing the separation from the 11-12 soft rays, in correspondence with the typical black spot; one shorter anal with 3 spines and 7 unarmed rays and the ventral ones with one spine only.

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Typical are the black ventral fins and the black dot halfway of the dorsal fin © Giuseppe Mazza

The pectoral and the caudal fins are rounded.

Also here the operculum has 3 spines, bent backwards, but the preoperculum has the border wholly jagged.

The head occupies almost one third of the body. The mouth is therefore, proportionally, very big.

The teeth, small and placed in rows on both jaws, are longer and hooked on the outer side, and the upper one has also higher and more robust caniniform teeth. Tiny teeth are present also inside the mouth.

The livery, more intense in the animals living in surface, has dark brown-reddish vertical bands.

The ventral fins are typically black.

Ethology-Reproductive Biology

In spite of the modest size, the Serranus hepatus is much greedy. It hunts small fishes, cephalopods, crustaceans and annelids.

It is a hermaphrodite species. As it happens for the Serranus scriba and the Serranus cabrilla the eggs and the sperm mature at the same time and the self-fecundation is therefore, theoretically, possible. In the Mediterranean, it reproduces during the spring and in summer.

The eggs are pelagic and also the various larval stages are often carried offshore with the plankton by the currents. Only when the youngs reach the length of 15-17 mm they get closer to the coasts, proceeding immediately towards the bottom.

The vulnerability index of this species is of 31 over 100.


Labrus hepatus - Linnaeus, 1758; Paracentropristis hepatus - Linnaeus, 1758.


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