California Scorpionfish

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata

The California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata, whose common Spanish name is “Escorpión Californiano”, is a member of the Scorpionfish or Scorpaenidae Family, known collectively as “Escorpiónes” or “Lapóns” in Mexico.

The California Scorpionfish has a relatively slender spine laden compressed rectangular shaped body that tapers posteriorly with a body width of 29 to 33% of standard length. They vary in color with mixtures of bright red, brown, tan, white and lavender. The body is densely covered with dark brown and black spots. In adults, the anal, caudal, dorsal and pectoral fins have significant larger spotting organized in rows; the juveniles lack fin spotting. Their head is enlarged, depressed, bulbous, and very bony with numerous spines, short barbells and several cirri. They have medium sized eyes. There is a deep depression (pit) before and after the eye and the ridge below the eye has zero, two or three spines. Their fins are large with the anal fin has three spines and five or six rays; their caudal fin is square with a ragged margin; their dorsal fin has twelve spines and eight to ten rays; and, their pectoral fins have seventeen to nineteen rays. They have sixteen to nineteen gill rakes. Their bodies are covered with smooth scales.

The California Scorpionfish reaches a maximum length of 47 cm (18.5 inches). They are found in tidal pools to depths up to 600 feet but are more common at depths greater than 100 feet within rocky structure, hard bottoms, and occasionally over mud and sand bottoms. They reside on the bottom during daylight hours but become voracious predators during the night, feeding on small crabs, small fish, octopi, and shrimp. They spawn in late spring. They are found along the west coast of Baja south to Todos Santos, with this southerly boundary established by a fish in my possession, and a small isolated population in the northern portion of the Sea of Cortez.

The California Scorpionfish is very similar in appearance and can be confused with the Peruvian Scorpionfish, Scorpaena afuerae, the Player Scorpionfish, Scorpaena histrio and the Rainbow Scorpionfish, Scorpaenodes xyris, but all three lack the dark spotting on the body and fins.

The California Scorpionfish is a target of the California sportfishing industry and are of declining commercial interest although they are still considered a delicacy in Asia. Caution: this scorpionfish, like all scorpionfish, should be treated as “hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow its poisonous spines to penetrate the skin.

California Scorpionfish (1)

California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata: Provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, March 2008. Size: 25 cm (9.8 inches).
California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata: Provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, March 2008. Length: 25 cm (9.8 inches).