Speckled Scorpionfish, Pontinus sierra
The Speckled Scorpionfish, Pontinus sierra, whose common Spanish name is lapón manchado, 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 Speckled Scorpionfish have spine-laden slender compressed bodies that taper posteriorly; their body depth is 29 – 33% of standard length. They are red but shade to pink ventrally with gray-green blotches on their sides; the underside of their head and the inside of their mouth are white. Their fins are pinkish-red and their caudal and soft dorsal fins are heavily spotted. Their head is very large, deep, and bony with numerous spines. They have small mouths and large disproportionately-sized very closely-spaced eyes. They lack the “pits” before and after the eyes found in most other Scorpionfish. The uppermost spine on their gill cover is the longest. Their anal fin has 3 spines, the second being the longest, and 5 or 6 rays; their dorsal fin has 12 spines and 8 or 9 rays; and their pectoral fins have 16 to 19 rays. They have eight to 13 gill rakers and their bodies are covered with rough scales.
The Speckled Scorpionfish are found within rocky and rubble bottoms at depths between 65 feet and 1,150 feet. They reach a maximum length of 33 cm (13 inches), as established by a fish that I caught. They are an exceedingly rare species that is seldom seen by humans, thus very little is known about their behavioral patterns. The best photo on the globe for this species is provided below.
In Mexican waters the Speckled Scorpionfish are found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception that they are absent from the northern third of the Sea of Cortez and from the west coast of Baja.
The Speckled Scorpionfish is not difficult to identify but can be confused with the Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus (elongated third dorsal spine) and the Rosy Scorpionfish, Pontinus species A (wider body, pink color, dark brown bars on sides).
The Speckled Scorpionfish are too rare, too small, and too difficult to handle, thus are mostly a “catch and release”. Caution: As with all Scorpionfish, the Speckled Scorpionfish should be treated as “hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow their poisonous spines to penetrate the skin.
Speckled Scorpionfish, Pontinus sierra. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, December 2017. Length: 23 cm (9.1 inches).