The tasseled scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis oxycephala) is also known as the small-scaled scorpionfish. They are ambush predators which rely on very colorful camouflage. In the deeper waters where there is no red light their camouflage is exceptionally good.
Tasseled scorpionfish are one of the larger members of the scorpionfish family, growing up to 36 centimeters in length. The fish are highly variable in color and size. Blotches of a variety of reds, oranges, browns and whites are spread across the body and no one fish appears to have the same camouflage patterns. Although the colors may sound bright, the camouflage is extremely effective. The head and body are decorated with a large number of tassels, specifically shaped to resemble seaweed. Some of which even protrude from the lips. The fish has a slightly humped snout.
The juveniles appear to be mainly red in color and once they reach a size of four to five cm they begin growing tassels. This can be seen in the image below.
IN THE WILD
The Tasseled scorpionfish are generally easy to approach particularly when they feel their camouflage is working. Because of their poisonous spines they have few predators and they take advantage of this and studiously ignore a diver. If they feel uncomfortable they will raise their pectoral fins as if in warning and will then wait to see what happens. If a diver does not retreat they will do a short hop a few feet away.
They are found across the Indo Pacific area, all the way up the East coast of Africa to the Red sea and are usually found on rubble or in among weeds. The best time to see them is on a night dive when they are more conspicuous. Because their camouflage is so good it is easy to miss them during the day. When in shallow waters swimmers can easily tread on their spines.
They prey on fishes and crustaceans and pretty much anything that fits in their mouth. The fish in the image above ate the pipefish in the image a few seconds after I took the image when it strayed in front of its mouth. They use their large mouths to create a vacuum and suck in and swallow the prey.
Scorpionfish are oviparous with females producing eggs that when fertilized are released and float near the surface. Little else is known about scorpionfish reproduction.
They are caught on the line by some indigenous communities and the flesh is edible but as with any similar predator there is a risk of ciguatera poisoning.
These fish grow quite large and will eat almost anything that moves in front of them. Because of this they are usually only seen in some public aquariums.
TASSELED SCORPIONFISH CLASSIFICATION
Species: S. oxycephala
- The Reef Guide fishes, corals, nudibranchs & other invertebrates: East and South Coasts of Southern Africa by Dennis King & Valda Fraser