Regular Leopard Grouper Morphimage credit: arkive.org, Keoki Stender
“Golden groupers are morphologically identical to regularly-colored leopard groupers, and in fact, they all start out with the same drab, brownish skin. But, when they are about ten inches long, roughly one percent of the fish become “star-struck” and suddenly change to gold.” (via Mexfish). The coloration change is not gender dependent and the mystery remains as to why some fish go about this metamorphosis and others do not.
“Scientific “facts” about Baja’s golden grouper are hard to come by, there are probably more anecdotal stories and legends swirling around it than any other Baja fish. The most fantastic of these stories describe such things as golden groupers saving lost divers or leading them to chests full of Spanish treasure, or, probably the most outlandish of all, Ray Cannon’s 1960s tales of golden groupers using their bright coloration intelligently to “herd” bait fish toward schools of their well-camouflaged, brown-colored brethren.” (via Mexfish).
Mexican fisherman have nicknamed the Golden Grouper has “reina,” or Queen, and throw the beautiful fish back whenever caught. They say it is bad luck to capture and eat a Golden reina.