Unlucky prey of the scorpionfish never see what’s coming until it’s too late. Members of the scorpionfish family are experts at blending in with their surroundings, making them excellent ambush predators in their habitat. Fish of the scorpionfish family are some of the most poisonous animals in the ocean. The combination of their physical appearance and venomous spines makes the scorpionfish a force to be reckoned with in the sea.
Scorpionfish are bottom-dwelling fish that have also been called rockfish or stonefish because of their tendency to live among rocks near the seafloor. There are more than 200 known species of scorpionfish in the ocean. Members of this fish family are commonly found in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans where water temperatures are temperate and coral reefs are plentiful. Coral reefs provide the perfect space for a scorpionfish to hide and hunt for prey and also avoid any potential predators brave enough to take a bite. But, the body of a scorpionfish is just as important as its habitat when it comes to remaining unseen. Scorpionfish are covered in feathery fins or skin flaps that help with camouflage against surrounding coral. Some scorpionfish are dull in color–mottled brown or yellow– while other species are bright red or orange, making them virtually invisible when hidden among either rocks or reefs. Scorpionfish are also equipped with spines containing dangerous venom. When the spines pierce a predator, the venom is injected immediately at the point of contact. A sting from one of these spines can be potentially fatal to other animals and extremely painful to humans.
Scorpionfish are exceptional sit-and-wait predators. Scorpionfish only hunt at night and spend daylight hours resting in crevices. They will remain in the shadows of rocks or reefs before pouncing on unsuspecting prey swimming by. Their diet consists of small fish, crustaceans and snails that also live in coral reefs. A scorpionfish’s mouth is wide in size, which allows the fish to quickly suck and swallow prey whole in one bite. Scorpionfish can also use their venom to stun prey before eating them. Predators of scorpionfish remain few, but sharks, rays and large snappers have been known to hunt the fish.
Most scorpionfish species are less than two feet in size and have a lifespan of 15 years. A female scorpionfish may release upwards of 15,000 eggs into the water for fertilization by the males. Fertilized eggs float to the surface where egg-eating predators are less likely to get to them. After just two days the eggs will hatch and baby scorpionfish will remain near the surface until they are big enough to swim down to the reefs where the adults swim. Scorpionfish face few threats in our ocean—they are not commercially fished because of their venom, but some species may be caught as incidental bycatch when lines and hooks are set near reefs. Their coral reef habitat may also be in jeopardy due to warming oceans and global warming.