California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata
The California Scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata, whose common Spanish name is escorpión Californiano, is a species in the family Scorpaenidae, the Rockfishes and Scorpionfishes, known as escorpiónes or lapóns in Mexico. Globally, there are 59 species in the genus Scorpaena, of which sixteen are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and six in the Pacific.
The California Scorpionfish have relatively slender spine-laden compressed rectangular-shaped bodies that taper posteriorly; their body depth is 29 to 33% of standard length. They vary in color featuring mixtures of bright red, brown, tan, white, and lavender. Their body is densely covered with dark brown and black spots. In adults, the anal, caudal, dorsal, and pectoral fins have significantly larger spotting organized in rows; the juveniles lack such 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 their eyes and the ridge below their eyes has zero to three spines. Their fins are large with the anal fin having 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 rakers. Their bodies are covered with smooth scales.
The California Scorpionfish are found in tidal pools at depths up to 600 feet but are more common at depths greater than 100 feet within rocky structures, hard bottoms, and occasionally over muddy and sandy 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 reach a maximum length of 47 cm (19 inches). 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. A small isolated population resides in the northern portion of the Sea of Cortez.
The California Scorpionfish is very similar in appearance to, and can be confused with, the Peruvian Scorpionfish, Scorpaena afuerae, the Player Scorpionfish, Scorpaena histrio, and the Rainbow Scorpionfish, Scorpaenodes xyris, however all three lack the dark spotting on the body and fins.
The California Scorpionfish are a target of the California sport fishing industry. They are of declining commercial interest although are still considered a delicacy in Asia. Caution: As with all Scorpionfish, the California Scorpionfish should be treated as “hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow their poisonous spines to penetrate the skin.