California Scorpionfish

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata

The California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata, whose common Spanish name is escorpión Californiano, is a species in the Rockfishes and Scorpionfishes or Scorpaenidae Family, known collectively as escorpiónes or lapóns in Mexico. Globally, there are fifty-nine species in the genus Scorpaena, sixteen of which are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and six in the Pacific.

The California Scorpionfish have relatively slender spine-laden compressed rectangular-shaped bodies that taper posteriorly; their body depth is 29 to 33% of standard length. They vary in color featuring mixtures of bright red, brown, tan, white, and lavender. Their body is densely covered with dark brown and black spots. In adults, the anal, caudal, dorsal, and pectoral fins have significantly larger spotting organized in rows; the juveniles lack such fin spotting. Their head is enlarged, depressed, bulbous, and very bony with numerous spines, short barbells, and several cirri. They have medium-sized eyes. There is a deep depression (pit) before and after their eyes and the ridge below their eyes has zero to three spines. Their fins are large with the anal fin having 3 spines and 5 or 6 rays; their caudal fin is square with a ragged margin; their dorsal fin has 12 spines and 8 to 10 rays; and their pectoral fins have 17 to 19 rays. They have 16 to 19 gill rakers. Their bodies are covered with smooth scales.

The California Scorpionfish are found in tidal pools at depths up to 600 feet but are more common at depths greater than 100 feet within rocky structures, hard bottoms, and occasionally over muddy and sandy bottoms. They reach a maximum length of 47 cm (19 inches). They reside on the bottom during daylight hours but become voracious predators during the night, feeding on small crabs, small fish, octopi, and shrimp. They spawn in late spring.

In Mexican waters the California Scorpionfish has a limted distribution being found from Todos Santos northward along the southwest, central and northwest coasts of Baja, with the southerly boundary established by a fish in my possession. A small isolated population is reported to reside in the northern portion of the Sea of Cortez.

The California Scorpionfish is very similar in appearance to, and can be confused with, the Peruvian Scorpionfish, Scorpaena afuerae, the Player Scorpionfish, Scorpaena histrio, and the Rainbow Scorpionfish, Scorpaenodes xyris, however all three lack the dark spotting on the body and fins.

The California Scorpionfish are a target of the California sport fishing industry. They are of declining commercial interest although are still considered a delicacy in Asia.  Caution:  As with all Scorpionfish, the California Scorpionfish should be treated as “hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow their poisonous spines to penetrate the skin.

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata, juvenile. Fish caught off the Shelter Island Pier, San Diego, California, December 2015. Length: 10.1 cm (4.0 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.

California Scorpionfish (1)

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, March 2008. Length: 25 cm (9.8 inches).

California Scorpionfish (3)

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater San Diego area, San Diego, California, November 2014. Length: 32 cm (13 inches).

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata: Fish caught from coastal waters off Ejido Eréndira, Baja California, February 2015. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata. Fish caught from coastal waters off Long Beach, California, October 2015. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata. Fish caught from coastal waters off Long Beach, California, October 2015. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.

f190-california-scorpionfish-9

f190-california-scorpionfish-10California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, October 2016. Length: 32 cm (13 inches).