Stone Scorpionfish, Scorpaena mystes
The Stone Scorpionfish, Scorpaena mystes, whose common Spanish name is escorpión roquero, 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 Stone Scorpionfish have spine-laden compressed elongated oval-shaped bodies that taper at both ends; their body depth is 36 to 40% of standard length. They vary significantly in color but are a more or less uniform drab mottled mixture of gray, brown, red, orange, green, and black. They have conspicuous barbells under their mouth and abundant skin flaps over their head and body, which afford them the appearance of a seaweed-encrusted rock. Their caudal fin is rounded, ragged, and has dark bars. A key to identification is that the base of their very large pectoral fins are dark with white spots arranged below (see photograph below). Their dorsal fin typically has one prominent black spot; however, I have seen fish with as many as four (see photograph below). They have disproportionately large mouths. Their head is very bony with numerous spines and is as broad as it is deep. Their head and body are covered with numerous skin flaps. They have medium-sized eyes. There have shallow depressions (pits) before and after their eyes and a deep pit behind their eyes; the ridge below their eyes has 3 or 4 spines. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 5 or 6 rays; their dorsal fin has 12 spines and 9 or 10 rays; and their pectoral fins have 18 to 21 rays. Their bodies are covered with large smooth scales. The Stone Scorpionfish is poorly studied and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
The Stone Scorpionfish are found from the intertidal zone to depths up to 330 feet in weed-covered reefs and open sand rubble areas. They are ambush predators consuming fish and small invertebrates. They reach a maximum length of 49 cm (19 inches), with a fish that I caught off the beach establishing this record.
In Mexican waters the Stone Scorpionfish are found in all waters of the Pacific.
The Stone Scorpionfish cannot be confused with any other species due to its large head, numerous head skin flaps, and white spotting on the underside of its pectoral fin base. The larger fish give the impression of being the meanest most ferocious species in the ocean and are an immediate “catch and release”. Caution: As with all Scorpionfish, the Stone Scorpionfish should be treated as “hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow their poisonous spines to penetrate the skin.
Stone Scorpionfish, Scorpaena mystes. Fish caught from coastal waters off of Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja California, July 2015. Length: 40 cm (16 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.