Fish Identification: Spotted Scorpionfish

Today's fish is a member of the infamous scorpionfish family.

Physical description

[Spotted scorpionfish][]
Spotted scorpionfish are large for their family. They average around 12 inches (35 cm) long, with some males reaching 18 in (45 cm) in length.

They have wide, fan-like pectoral fins as well as dorsal spines that make this a formidable looking fish. The fleshy plumes covering their eyes give them the appearance of a grumpy old man.

Spotted scorpionfish usually have a reddish color. Their pectoral fins have a combination of white stripes and spots, hence the name. The tails also have three white stripes.

You'd think all of this would make the spotted scorpionfish fairly distinctive, but the truth is they are not always easy to spot, for several reasons. First, they are almost always stationary on the ocean bottom. When they come to rest, they stir up silt which settles along their body, effectively disguising them.

Second, their red-rust hue becomes grey even in relatively shallow water. Lastly, their recognizable striped fins are only visible while they are swimming (or threatened).

Nevertheless, once you learn to recognize them, you will start spotting them everywhere.

Geography and habitat

Spotted scorpionfish are found all along the western Atlantic down to South America, as well as in the Pacific from Baja California down to The Galapagos. I believe the western Pacific even has a variety.

These fish are found on the sea bottom or resting on rocks. Often this is under coral or outcroppings, so you may have to look around to find them.

Like most scorpionfish, the spotted variety is a loner.


Spotted scorpionfish are venomous, like all its cousins. The dorsal spines contain the venom, although it is only used for self-defense. Keep a sharp eye if touching the sea bottom so that you're not getting an (un)healthy dose of scorpionfish venom!

Further reading

Marine Bio
Living Reefs
Ocean Oasis Field Guide

[Spotted scorpionfish]: