Scorpionfish are ray-finned fish belonging to the Scorpaenidae family. There are 10 subfamilies of scorpionfish and at least 388 known species. Some species are also called stonefish or rockfish, and lionfish belong to this same family as well. True scorpionfish belong to the Scorpaena subfamily. Lionfish come from the Pterois genus, and stonefish from the Synanceia genus. Scorpionfish are found in temperate and tropical waters of the Indian and South Pacific oceans with plentiful coral reefs. True scorpionfish are bottom-dwellers that tend to live among the rocks they can camouflage against. While usually found in shallow coastal water, they have been spotted as deep as 800 meters. True scorpionfish usually only grow up to be less than 24 inches long, with the largest members growing to 39 inches. Their lifespan is about 15 years.
Scorpionfish have compressed bodies with ridges or spines on their head and 11 to 17 dorsal spines. Their pectoral fins have well-developed rays that make them appear feathery. Lionfish are brightly colored to display that they are a threat, but true scorpionfish have mottled coloring for camouflaging among their surroundings. This coloring ranges from brown or yellow to bright red or orange, and they also have numerous skin flaps. The most stand-out feature of scorpionfish is likely the dangerous venom contained in their spines. This venom is fatal to most other animals and extremely painful to humans. It is capable of being fatal to humans depending on the point of contact where the venom is injected. The fish of this family are considered some of the ocean’s most poisonous. Luckily, scorpionfish are not an aggressive species and will only sting when threatened or injured.
Scorpionfish are carnivorous and consume small fish, crustaceans and snails. True scorpionfish are ambush predators who hunt at night. They wait for prey to swim by before they swiftly suck and swallow their prey in one bite with their wide mouths. They do have the option to stun their prey with their venom if necessary. While their venom is an excellent deterrence, predators of scorpionfish still include sharks, rays and large snappers. Scorpionfish are solitary species and only congregate for mating. Nearly 15,000 eggs will be released into the water by the female for the male to fertilize. The eggs then float at the surface, and newly hatched baby scorpionfish will remain at the surface until they are big enough to swim down to the reef. Scorpionfish are currently not a conservation concern. Due to their venom, humans don’t catch true scorpionfish for consumption. They can, however, end up as incidental bycatch when hooks and lines are set up near reefs. Global warming and rising sea temperatures may be problematic for scorpionfish in the future as well.