Spotback Scorpionfish

Spotback Scorpionfish, Pontinus vaughani

The Spotback Scorpionfish, Pontinus vaughani, whose common Spanish name is lapón lomo 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 Spotback Scorpionfish have wide compressed bodies that widen as they mature; their body depth is 31 to 37% of standard length. Overall they are pinkish-maroon with their head and body being a dark pink with yellow tinges on the upper half. Their head and body are covered with dense irregular pale blue spots. All their fins are heavily spotted with the exception of the anterior portion of their dorsal fin which has spines with wide yellow membranes and lacks spots. Their head is very bony with numerous spines. They have small mouths and small 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 and 4 rays; their caudal fin is straight or slightly rounded; their dorsal fin has 7 spines, the second and third being of equal length and longer than the others (a key to identification), and 9 or 10 rays; and their pectoral fins have 19 to 20 rays. They have 14 to 21 gill rakers and their bodies are covered with rough scales.

The Spotback Scorpionfish are found around rocky structures at depths between 100 and 350 feet. They reach a maximum length of length of 56 cm (22 inches). They are an exceedingly rare species with a very limited distribution and are seldom seen by humans, thus very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Spotback Scorpionfish are found in isolated populations from La Paz southward along the southeast coast of Baja and from Guerrero Negro southward along the central and southern coasts of Baja.

The Spotback Scorpionfish are simply a gorgeous fish and very easy to identify. They cannot be confused with any other species.

The Spotback Scorpionfish, although fairly rare, is considered a good eating fish. However, they are difficult to handle, thus mostly a “catch and release”. Caution: As with all Scorpionfish, the Spotback Scorpionfish should be treated as “hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow their poisonous spines to penetrate the skin.

Spotback Scorpionfish, Pontinus vaughani, juvenile. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, February 2014. Length: 19 cm (7.5 inches)

Spotback Scorpionfish

Spotback Scorpionfish, Pontinus vaughani. Fish caught from coastal waters off Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, February 2008. Length: 30 cm (11.8 inches).