Closely related to the lionfish, scorpionfish belong to the family Scorpaenidae that includes many of the world’s most venomous species of marine fish. There are more than 200 species worldwide. They can be found amongst coral reefs in tropical waters. Their habitat varies greatly amongst species according to camouflaging behavior. Generally, for any given terrain, the scorpionfish species residing there has adapted to it and perfected the art of camouflage within it. Feeding on small fish and crustaceans, this predatory fish is a nocturnal hunter that prefers to ambush its prey. Camouflaged by encrusting algae, fish unknowingly seek refuge amongst the rocks to hide from predators just to become prey for the scorpionfish.
Due to their nature, scorpionfish have few known predators. When a scorpionfish feels threatened it can also exhibit a colorful warning display called flashing. Sea lions and large fish have been known to eat them, but the biggest threat is humans. Habitat loss due to coral reef destruction and the aquarium trade play a huge role in the reduction of scorpionfish populations worldwide.
Here in Costa Rica scorpionfish are a very common sight for divers along the rocky reefs of the Pacific coast. Particularly here in Manuel Antonio we frequently see two species, the rainbow and the spotted scorpionfish. Divemasters point to them out to guests because they are visually fascinating. Due to their venomous nature they due pose a hazard to divers as well. Blending in to match the surrounding rock, they are hard to see unless until you train your eyes to look for them. A diver can easily unknowingly put their hand down on one. Scorpionfish have short, thick spines and large venom glands that deliver a potent and toxic sting. The sting although not lethal, causes intense pain and swelling at the site of the sting.
A vital evolutionary adaptation for survival, scorpionfish have successfully mastered the art of crypsis, or the ability of an organism to avoid observation or detection by other organisms. This disguise mechanism makes them almost undetectable. Humans having no natural ability to blend into their surroundings and have copied this technique for our own use, especially in times of war. I congratulate the scorpionfish for its evolutionary accomplishment in mastering the art of camouflage. It is a remarkable ability that is one of the most fundamental in survival techniques.