The Rockfish and Scorpionfish Family – Scorpaenidae
The fish of the Rockfish and Scorpionfish or Scorpaenidae Family are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as Escorpiónes or Lapóns. The family is large, heterogeneous, and includes many poorly characterized small fish divided into numerous subfamilies. Rockfishes are found along the West Coast of North America. Scorpionfish are found in all temperate and tropical seas, primarily inshore, and live in rocks, coral reefs, and seaweed at various depths from shallow tidal pools to the oceanic abyss. Most of the estimated nearly four hundred thirty species that have been placed in sixty-seven genera are found in the Indo-Pacific.
The Rockfish and Scorpionfish are small to medium-sized bottom-dwelling fish. Adults range in size from 5.0 cm (2.0 inches) to 40 cm (16 inches) with most being between 8.0 cm (3.1 inches) and 25 cm (10 inches). They have weakly compressed bodies with widths that are 21 to 50% of standard length and very large bulbous spiny heads that are 37% to 50% of standard length. Most Rockfish and Scorpionfish have cirri above their eyes. The eyes and snout length vary by species. Their mouths are moderate to large, terminal, oblique, protractile, and are equipped with small conical teeth. They have a spiny, longitudinal ridge under their eyes that extends posteriorly and is firmly attached to their gill cover. Their gill cover has one or two spines and its margin has three to five spines. Additional spines are scattered on their head. All Rockfish and Scorpionfish have anal fins with two to 4 spines and 5 to 14 rays, caudal fins that are straight or rounded, a single dorsal fin that is strongly notched at the rear with 8 to 18 strong venomous spines and 4 to 14 soft rays, large pectoral fins with a broad fan-like base, and pelvic fins with one spine and 5 rays. Their bodies are covered with scales of varying consistency, being generally small and smooth to rough.
Rockfishes are unusual in that fertilization and embryo development is internal, and female rockfish give birth to live larval young. Larvae are found in surface waters, and may be distributed over a wide area extending several hundred miles offshore. Each female produces between 20,000 to over 2 million eggs Larvae and small juvenile rockfish may remain in open waters for several months, being passively dispersed by ocean currents. Larval rockfish feed on diatoms, dinoflagellates, tintinnids, and cladocerans, and juveniles consume copepods and euphausiids of all life stages. Adults eat demersal invertebrates and small fishes, including other species of rockfish, associated with kelp beds, rocky reefs, pinnacles, and sharp dropoffs.
Rockfish and Scorpionfish are highly variable in color. Inshore species are mostly brown or mottled and feature bars with dark pigments on a lighter background and often have a pale or reddish belly. Deeper water species are normally red, often with darker red, brown, or black spots with white skin filaments. Most reef species are secretive, dwelling in caves and crevices during the daytime. They are extremely well camouflaged and excellent ambush predators feeding primarily at night on crustaceans and fish. In general they are solitary and only aggregate for reproduction. Most are ovoviviparous producing between a few hundred to a few thousand eggs. A few are viviparous.
CAUTION! The Scorpionfish have anal, dorsal, and pelvic spines that are venomous. Poison is produced by glandular tissue in longitudinal grooves on each side of their spine. Wounds from these spines vary from bee-sting intensity to unbelievable agony with significant swelling. Medical reports indicate that these wounds are not life-threatening and treatment involves soaking the affected area for 30 to 90 minutes in water between 110o and 112o. The Scorpionfish toxins are peptides that are broken down by human enzymes into non-toxic fragments; this process is significantly enhanced by heat. Although wounds from Scorpionfish typically do not cause complications, these fish should be treated as “extremely hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow their poisonous spines to penetrate the skin. Medical treatment should be sought for any wounds that cause significant pain or other symptoms.
All Scorpionfish are edible but most are small and dangerous to handle and therefore are not valuable food fish. The larger and more abundant species, caught primarily as a by-catch of deepwater trawlers, are sold commercially in some regions of the world. The flesh is white and considered an excellent food. Many live Scorpionfish are also sold and used as aquarium fish.
ROCKFISHES. Fifty-four different Rockfish reside in Mexican waters of the Pacific and forty-two are included in this website.
Aurora Rockfish, Sebastes aurora
Bank Rockfish, Sebastes rufus
Black Rockfish, Sebastes melanops
Black-and-yellow Rockfish, Sebastes chrysomelas
Blackgill Rockfish, Sebastes melanostomus
Blue Rockfish, Sebastes mystinus
Bocaccio, Sebastres paucipinis
Brown Rockfish, Sebastes auriculatus
Calico Rockfish, Sebastes dallii
Canary Rockfish, Sebastes pinniger
Chilipepper, Sebastes goodei
Copper Rockfish, Sebastes caurinus
Cowcod, Sebastes levis
Flag Rockfish, Sebastes rubrivinctus
Gopher Rockfish, Sebastes carnatus
Grass Rockfish, Sebastes rastrelliger
Greenblotched Rockfish, Sebastes rosenblatti
Greenspotted Rockfish, Sebastes chlorostictus
Greenstriped Rockfish, Sebastes elongatus
Halfbanded Rockfish, Sebastes semicinctus
Honeycomb Rockfish, Sebastes umbasus
Kelp Rockfish, Sebastes atrovirens
Longspine Thornyhead, Sebastolobus altivelis
Mexican Rockfish, Sebastes macdonaldi
Olive Rockfish, Sebasets serranoides
Pinkrose Rockfish, Sebastes simulator
Rosethorn Rockfish, Sebastes helvomaculatus
Rosy Rockfish, Sebastes rosaceus
Shortbelly Rockfish, Sebastes jordani
Shortspine Thornyhead, Sebastolous alascanus
Silvergray Rockfish, Sebastes brevispinis
Speckled Rockfish, Sebastes ovalis
Spinyeye Rockfish, Sebastes spinorbis
Squarespot Rockfish, Sebastes hopkinsi
Starry Rockfish, Sebastes constellatus
Stripetail Rockfish, Sebastes saxicola
Swordspine Rockfish, Sebastes ensifer
Sunset Rockfish, Sebastes crocotulus
Treefish, Sebastes serriceps
Vermillion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus
Widow Rockfish, Sebastes entomelas
Yelloweye Rockfish, Sebastes ruberrimus
Yellowtail Rockfish, Sebastes flavidus
Part II. Other Rockfish Residents of Mexican Waters of the Pacific (photos needed).
S. = Sebastes
Bronzespotted Rockfish, S. gilli
Cowcod, S. levis
Dwarf-red Rockfish, S. rufinanus
Freckled Rockfish, S. lentiginosus
Guadalupe Rockfish, S. notius
Pink Rockfish, S. eos
Pacific Ocean Perch, S. alutus
Redstripe Rockfish, S. proriger
Semaphore Rockfish, S. melanosema
Splitnose Rockfish, S. diploproa
Whitespeckled Rockfish, S. moseri
SCORPIONFISH – Twelve Scorpionfish reside in Mexican waters of the Pacific and ten are included in this website.
California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata
Peruvian Scorpionfish, Scorpaena afuerae
Player Scorpionfish, Scorpaena histrio
Rainbow Scorpionfish, Scorpaenodes xyris
Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus
Rosy Scorpionfish, Pontinus species A
Sonora Scorpionfish, Scorpaena sonorae
Speckled Scorpionfish, Pontinus sierra
Spotback Scorpionfish, Pontinus vaughani
Stone Scorpionfish, Scorpaena mystes
Many professionals include the Rockfish from the Sebastidae Family as members of the Scorpaenidae Family. Others believe that the Rockfish are a standalone family separate from the Sebastidae. For organization purposes, I have included the Rockfish Family with the Scorpionfish Family in this website.
For an excellent reference on Scorpionfish and their close relatives the Rockfish and the Thornyheads, please consult “A Guide To The Rockfishes, Thornyheads, and Scorpionfishes of The Northeast Pacific” by John L. Butler, Milton S. Love and Tom E. Laidig, University of California Press, 2012, which includes several of my Scorpionfish photos. I can also refer you to “The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific” by Milton S. Love, Mary Yoklavich, and Lyman Thorsteinson, University of California Press, 2002.