Red Scorpionfish

Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus

The Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus, whose common Spanish name is Lapón Rojo, is a member of the Scorpionfish or Scorpaenidae Family, known collectively as “Escorpiónes” or “Lapóns” in Mexico.

The Red Scorpionfish have relatively slender compressed bodies with a width that is 31 to 38% of standard length; they become wider as they mature. They are various shades of red with white mottling and dark brown and olive spotting on their upper body. Their caudal fin and the posterior portion of their dorsal fin are heavily spotted with small dark rectangular spots. Their head is enlarged, compressed, bulbous, and very bony with numerous spines. They have large eyes and a few have slender and pointed eye cirri. They lack the “pits” before and after the eyes found in most other Scorpionfish. Their uppermost gill cover spine is the longest. Their anal fin has three spines, the second being the longest and stoutest, and five or six rays; their caudal fin is square with a ragged margin; their dorsal fin has twelve spines, the third being much longer than the others (a key to identification), and eight or nine rays; and their pectoral fins have seventeen to nineteen rays. They have fifteen to twenty gill rakers. Their lateral line is complete and prominent. Their bodies are covered with rough scales.

The Red Scorpionfish are found at depths between 150 and 2,280 feet over both hard and soft bottoms. They reach a maximum length of 32 cm (13 inches), with this length established by a fish in my possession. They are found from Magdalena Bay south along the southwest coast of Baja, in the southern two-thirds of the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala.

The Red Scorpionfish is very similar in appearance to the Peruvian Scorpionfish, Scorpaena afuerae and the Speckled Scorpionfish, Pontinus sierra, however only the Red Scorpionfish has an elongated third dorsal spine.

The Red Scorpionfish are retained and consumed by subsistence fishermen but are generally too small and difficult to handle, thus are mostly a “catch and release”. Caution: As with all Scorpionfish, the Red Scorpionfish should be treated as “hazardous” and released as soon as possible, being careful not to allow their poisonous spines to penetrate the skin. Even the starving seabirds won’t touch a released Red Scorpionfish – they know better!

Red Scorpionfish (1)

Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus: Fish caught out of 300-foot water off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, May 2014, using a Sabiki rig tipped with squid. Length: 25 cm (9.8 inches).
Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus: Fish caught out of 300-foot water off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, May 2014, using a Sabiki rig tipped with squid. Length: 25 cm (9.8 inches).

Red Scorpionfish

Red Scorpionfish, Pontinus furcirhinus: Fish caught out of 300-foot water off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, June 2014. Length: 24 cm (9.4 inches). Most unusual "flag" tipped third dorsal spine. Purpose is unknown - mating, bait attraction, current detection?
Red Scorpionfish, Dorsal Fin, Pontinus furcirhinus: Fish caught out of 300-foot water off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, June 2014. Length: 24 cm (9.4 inches). Most unusual “flag” tipped third dorsal spine. Purpose is unknown – mating, bait attraction, current detection?