Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus
The Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus, whose common Spanish name is lapón rojo, is a species in the family Scorpaenidae, the Rockfishes and Scorpionfishes, known collectively as escorpiónes or lapóns in Mexico. Globally, there are twenty-one species in the genus Pontinus, seven of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and four in the Pacific.
The Red Scorpionfish have relatively slender compressed bodies with a depth that is 31 to 38% of standard length; they become wider as they mature. They are various shades of red with white mottling and dark brown and olive spotting on their upper body. Their caudal fin and the posterior portion of their dorsal fin are heavily spotted with small dark rectangular spots. Their head is enlarged, compressed, bulbous, and very bony with numerous spines. They have large eyes and a few have slender and pointed eye cirri. They lack the “pits” before and after the eyes found in most other Scorpionfish. Their uppermost gill cover spine is the longest. Their anal fin has 3 spines, the second being the longest and stoutest, and 5 or 6 rays; their caudal fin is square with a ragged margin; their dorsal fin has 12 spines, the third being much longer than the others (a key to identification), and 8 or 9 rays; and their pectoral fins have 17 to 19 rays. They have 15 to 20 gill rakers. Their lateral line is complete and prominent. Their bodies are covered with rough scales.
The Red Scorpionfish are found at depths between 150 and 2,280 feet over both hard and soft bottoms. They reach a maximum length of 32 cm (13 inches), with this length established by a fish in my possession.
In Mexican waters the Red Scorpionfish are found from Magdalena Bay southward along the southwest coast of Baja, in the southern two-thirds of the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala.
The Red Scorpionfish is very similar in appearance to the Peruvian Scorpionfish, Scorpaena afuerae and the Speckled Scorpionfish, Pontinus sierra, however only the Red Scorpionfish has an elongated third dorsal spine.
The Red Scorpionfish are retained and consumed by subsistence fishermen but are generally too small and difficult to handle, thus are mostly a “catch and release”. Caution: As with all Scorpionfish, the Red Scorpionfish should be treated as “hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow their poisonous spines to penetrate the skin. Even the starving seabirds won’t touch a released Red Scorpionfish – they know better!
Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, June 2017. Length: 23 cm (9.1 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.