WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 15: SCORPIONFISH


Caribbean Scorpionfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 15: SCORPIONFISH

The WTF? series is aimed at shedding light on fishes that are unusual. Or very unusual. Or puzzling, dangerous and maybe less than elegant in appearance. The scorpionfish is one such. It belongs to a large family, the Scorpaenidae, and many types are found throughout the world, especially in the Pacific and Indian oceans. LIONFISH, the newcomers to the western Atlantic, are a species of scorpionfish. 

Just another rock on the seabed…Caribbean Scorpionfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

WHY ‘SCORPIONFISH’? THEY LOOK SCARY. ARE THEY DANGEROUS?

One feature common to many scorpionfish species is that they are highly venomous. As the name suggests, a sting is involved. Or several stings. These come from the creature’s sharp spines, which are coated with mucus, and are to be avoided. If you want to pet one, the dorsal, anal and pelvic fins are the ones to steer clear of – these all have venom glands at the base. The spines act like injection needles. Scorpionfish aren’t naturally aggressive (except to prey), but they know how to defend themselves if need be. If you get ‘got’, you are in for “extreme pain and burning sensation”.

Caribbean Scorpionfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

DO THEY HAVE ANY OTHER TRICKS TO WATCH OUT FOR?

As many have written, scorpionfish are ‘Masters of Camouflage’. They are able to disguise themselves very effectively. Their appearance is a remarkably adapted to their surroundings, as if covered in a raggle-taggle of colourful algae. They can change colour to aid concealment. They can flick sand over themselves as they settle on the seabed. These ploys enable them to lie motionless on a coral reef or on the seabed, ready to ambush their prey. This consists mainly of small fishes and crustaceans, but really anything edible that will fit in their mouths is fair game. 

Concealed against coralCaribbean Scorpionfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

HOW DO THEY FEED?

The large mouth of scorpionfishes has a particular function. They don’t have teeth because they have no need. A scorpionfish can open its mouth and its gills simultaneously, thereby creating an instant vacuum that will suck in its prey in a flash. I have seen this described as “a nearly imperceptible split-second movement (15 milliseconds)”

Caribbean Scorpionfish, Bahamas (Ocean Frontiers Dive Shop)

THESE SCARY MONSTERS MUST BE HUGE, RIGHT? I’M KEEPING OUT OF THE WATER

Not so fast. When all is said and done – and in my view, most disappointingly – adult Caribbean Scorpionfish grow in the range of… erm… 7 – 14 inches. So now you are reassured, here’s a great short video from Ocean Frontiers Dive Shop, who kindly shared it on YT. I’ve used a couple of illustrative stills from it too.

ANYTHING ELSE WE NEED TO KNOW?

I can do no better than to turn to Card 81 to the excellent Monsters of the Deep‘ series of trading cards (the link is to my MotD page). I do realise that this is a rather unscientific approach. On the other hand these guys pack memorable information into a very short space, and do it well. Note that you can get a reflex sting from a scorpionfish for up to a week after it has died. Eat dust, earthbound scorpions.

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2, 3, 4,); Ocean Frontiers Dive Shop (video from YT, 2 stills); Wierd (sic) Creatures / Monsters of the Deep (O/S)

Scorpionfish, Bahamas (Ocean Frontiers Dive Shop)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (4): THE GOLDENTAIL


Goldentail Moray Eel (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (4): THE GOLDENTAIL

The Goldentail Moray Eel Gymnothorax miliaris is one of the half-dozen moray species found in Bahamas waters. Adults range in length from about 1.5 to 2.5 feet, and they are creatures of the reefs and rocks of the western Atlantic. As far as I can make out, the goldentails are rather less common than green or spotted morays, the two main eel species of the Bahamas.

Goldentail Moray Eel (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Like their moray cousins, goldentails likes to keep themselves to themselves, and lead largely solitary lives. That said, sometimes they have been observed hunting in a group. They live in holes, clefts, and caverns which they leave both during the day and at night to hunt for prey along the reefs, aided by an acute sense of smell. Their diet is mainly of crustaceans, mollusks, and small fishes. 

goldentail-moray-eel-istock-getty-images-2

ARE GOLDENTAILS DANGEROUS?

Like many other eels, goldentails secrete a protective mucus that contains a toxin, making them unattractive prey for large predators such a groupers and barracudas. They are also associated with ciguatera poisoning, the active ingredients of which are found in the mucus coating. They are sometimes found in aquariums – the associated sites give a warning of painful bites, because they have backwards-pointing teeth (aka prey traps) – see header image for a clear view of this.

Goldentail Moray Eel (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)
 
CAN YOU EAT THESE FISH?

Well I wondered that too, so I checked. The answer seems to be yes, if you real really want to. Comments on forums include:

  • “Yes they are edible, I just ate one few weeks ago. Some parts are little bony and skinning it is a bitch. But the meat is very soft and white, delicious. Deep fry works”. 
  • “After eating our moray eel something changed. The next morning, we were decidedly feeling ill. I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say that “gastrointestinal effects”
  • “…symptoms (of ciguatera) include gastronomic effects, and neurological effects which include headaches, numbness, paresthesia, muscle ache, and even hallucinations”.
  • “Before you can eat one you have to kill it. They are amazingly hard to kill. I would skip it.”
  • “I would rather eat a shoe”

So I’ll be moving straight on to the next course, please. Or just a Kalik would do, thanks.

goldentail-moray-eel-istock-getty-images-3

RELATED POSTS

SPOTTED MORAY EELS

GREEN MORAY EELS

goldentail-moray-eel-istock-getty-images-1.

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2, 4); iStock / Getty Images (3, 5, 6)

 

 

 

 

GET ME A ‘CUDA – AND MAKE IT SNAPPY…


Barracuda, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

GET ME A ‘CUDA – AND MAKE IT SNAPPY…

It’s probably fair to say that barracudas are among the less kindly-disposed of the denizens of the flats and reefs of the Bahamas. They certainly rank high on the Rolling Harbour Tooth Avoidance Scale. The seemingly random nature of the razor sharp dental arrangements – different sizes, different angles, different directions – does not inspire confidence. 

Barracuda, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The worst fishing injury I have picked up so far – aside from multiple terrible injuries to pride from botched casts, mistakes, missed takes and lost fish – has come from a large ling. What I didn’t know until I had been cut when my finger went into its mouth was that the teeth are coated in anticoagulant. I bled all over the boat and spent the rest of the day getting through a large roll of paper towel and several improvised bandages (J-cloths). That wiped the smug smile off my face – pride in the catch came before a notable fall in my standard-issue blood quota.

Ling caught off the Dorset coast (Keith Salvesen)

Barracuda, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

When bonefishing in the shallow waters around the coast of Abaco, there are always ‘cudas to be seen. They are not the main target fish, but the boats always have a spinning rod in them, just in case… At some stage in the day, some people find it hard to resist the urge to chuck out a lure when ‘cudas are about. It’s not something I generally do, though occasionally my fly gets intercepted by a practice-sized ‘cuda. 

A learner ‘cuda that took a bonefish fly

Earlier this year I was in a boat fishing with the legendary Robin Albury, a guide who generally doubles my usual modest catch rate. My boat partner and I were taking a lunch break, with an open cool box of snacks between us and a Kalik in our hands. Robin went to the sharp end with the spinning rod on the off-chance. In a flash he had seen a big ‘cuda, chucked out the lure onto the creature’s nose and caught it, almost in one movement. I put down my beer to watch the entertainment. Robin decided otherwise, and simply handed me the rod to play the thing. And boy, was that fun. I didn’t get the kudos of making the hook-up, but I had plenty of work to do… It took an excitingly long time to bring the strong and vigorous fish to the boat. Robin got to hold the fish, of course – after my ling experience, I was happy enough to let him mess with the dental arrangements.

Barracuda, Abaco Marls, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Barracuda, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Barracuda, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2, 4, 6, 7); Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (3, 5, 6)

 

SHARPNOSE PUFFER FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (47)


Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

SHARPNOSE PUFFER FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (47)

It’s more than 4 years since I last wrote about these intriguing creatures and their endearing ways. It’s time for another look, with a new batch of great photos too. This is a species that lends itself to the ‘Fun Fact’ treatment, a method that tells you at least as much as you probably need – or want – to know about puffers. The message to take away is, best not to handle one – let alone eat one – unless you know exactly what you are doing…

Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

10 PUFFER FISH FACTS TO ASTONISH YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS

1. Puffers can inflate their bodies in an instant by ingesting huge amounts of water and becoming water-filled balloons. Then their tiny spines stick out. 

2. They need a startling form of defence (or ‘piscatorial superpower’ Linnaeus 1763*) like this because they can’t swim very well to escape from predators: it’s surprising and intimidating – and it also makes them hard to eat.

3. However, a persistent predator undeterred by the trick will find that the puffer contains a toxin (tetrodotoxin TTX) that is said to be ‘1,200 times stronger than cyanide’. One puffer fish has enough toxin to kill up to 30 humans (National Geographic).

Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

4. Notwithstanding the risks, selected parts of a puffer fish are a delicacy in some cultures (known as ‘fugu’ in Japan). Specially trained chefs are used to avoid mass deaths among diners. The insurance premiums must be huge.

5. Sharks are thought to be the only species immune to the puffer fish, and are not much bothered by a small fish that can blow itself up.

6. Puffers have skin, not scales; most have toxic fins or spines of some sort, besides toxic innards. Bright coloured kinds are likely to be more toxic than their duller cousins. This warning colouration in creatures is known as aposematism.

Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

7. It’s worth finding out what an uninflated puffer looks like before you try to pet a random passing fish and have a toxic encounter. There is as yet no known antidote.

8. In all, there are more than a hundred puffer species in the world, all found where there are warm shallow waters. At least 3 main species – sharpnose, band-tail and chequered – are found in the Bahamas.

Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

9. Some puffer species are not toxic at all; and some – especially in Pacific waters – are far more toxic than others. That’s the region where they are treated as a delicacy.

10. I’ve checked several research papers but I can’t find an evaluation of the relative toxicity as between the Bahamas puffer species. However it’s clear that the sharpnose is certainly not one play with. Take care!

Q. SO WHAT DOES AN INFLATED PUFFER LOOK LIKE? A. THIS!

Brian Lockwood took his life in his hands to get this fantastic shot…Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Brian Lockwood)

* Not really

RELATED POST: PORCUPINE FISH

Photo Credits: All puffer fish taken by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba except for the photo of an inflated one from recent Abaco permanent resident Brian Lockwood

OCTOPUSES: IN THEIR ELEMENT


Octopus, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

OCTOPUSES: IN THEIR ELEMENT

We haven’t seen many octopuses in these parts for quite a while. Time to put that right. The seas of the Bahamas teem with many many marine species, but few are as fascinating or indeed versatile as the octopus. Don’t take my word for it, just watch ‘Finding Dory’ to see how amazing Hank the… [what’s that, Skippy? It’s fiction?]. As you were. That these extraordinary creatures even exist let alone thrive in our waters is a truly wonderful thing. Here are a few to admire – or in the case of the one below, to admire you.

‘Here’s lookin’ at you…’Octopus, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Octopus, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Octopus, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

You can find out some more about octopuses – including the correct plural for ‘octopus’ – by clicking the links below. More importantly, you’ll see more of them too.

THE PLURAL OF OCTOPUS & RELATED CEPHALOPOD MYSTERIES

MARINE BAGPIPES FILLED WITH INK

OCTOPUSES: WORTH LEARNING TO SCUBA FOR

Octopus, Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

All octopedal photos: thanks to Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1 – 4) and Adam Rees / Scuba Works (5)

QUEEN ANGELFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (46)


Queen Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

QUEEN ANGELFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (46)

The Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliarisis is without doubt one of the most beautiful of all reef fishes in the Bahamas – and the competition is very strong. I have posted about them before, but to my surprise not for nearly 5 years. Too long: here are some much more recent photographs of adults and cute juveniles.

Queen Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Queen Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The bright colours, the pouty expressions, the appealing poses – these fish are true Beauty Queens. And helpfully, they are unlikely to be mistaken for any other fish species.

Queen Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

TEENAGE QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish (Juv), Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

JUVENILE QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish (Juvenile), Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Queen Angelfish (Juvenile), Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Photo Credit: ©Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba), with thanks as ever

CARIBBEAN REEF SQUID REVISITED: SUPERPOWERS & SQUID SEX


Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

CARIBBEAN REEF SQUID REVISITED: SUPERPOWERS & SQUID SEX  

The Caribbean reef squid Sepioteuthis sepioidea is a small squid species of (mainly) the Caribbean Sea and the Floridian coast, and the most common in its range. These squid tend to form small shoals in and around reefs. Right now, in June, is a good time to find these creatures swimming in groups – all these photos were taken during the last fortnight. I wrote about squid a while back (3 years, maybe)? This post includes some parts of the earlier one, with all-new images. Squidmages, even.

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Squid are voracious eaters, dragging their prey to their mouths with some or all of their 10 limbs and using their beak to cut it up. The target species are small fish, molluscs and crustaceans. The squid have a ‘raspy tongue’ known as a radula which further breaks up the food for easy consumption.

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

REEF SQUID SUPERPOWERS (SUPERCOOL)

  • Squid are capable of brief flight out of the water (a fairly recent discovery)
  • They can also hide from / confuse predators by ejecting a cloud of black ink
  • Squid can change colour, texture and shape, and can even match their surroundings
  • This enviable power is used defensively as camouflage or to appear larger if threatened
  • It is also used in courtship rituals (something that humans might find most disconcerting)
  • Colour patterns are also used for routine squid-to-squid communication AND GET THIS:
  • A squid can send a message to another on one side, and a different one to a squid on the other side

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

SQUID SEX (1) “ROMANCING THE SQUID”

  • A male will gently stroke a female with his tentacles
  • The female will (most likely) flash an ‘alarm’ pattern. She’s hard to get.
  • The male soothes her (don’t try this at home, guys) by blowing and jetting water at her
  • If this doesn’t go well, he’ll move off, then repeat the routine until she sees his good points
  • However this on / off courtship can last for hours until at last he succeeds and then…
  • … he attaches a sticky packet of sperm onto the female’s body (romance is not dead on the reef)
  • She then reaches for it and moves it to her seminal receptacle
  • Meanwhile he stays close, emitting a pulsing pattern, as well he might after all that palaver
  • She then finds a safe place to lay her eggs. Job done.

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

SQUID SEX (2) IT ALL ENDS BADLY. VERY BADLY.

  • As soon the female squid has laid her eggs, she dies at once
  • The male squid lives a bit longer and… may have other packets to stick on other lady squid
  • But then in the end he dies too
  • It’s all horribly reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. The lovers die. But no the balcony scene

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

THE CORRECT PLURAL OF SQUID

I had an unwise look online, always a hotbed of conflicting opinions. Inserting an algorithm into the interstices of the internet proves conclusively that the plural of squid is… squid. One squid, ten squid, a group of squid, a plate of squid. Unless, that is, you are talking about more than one of the many squid species, when you could also have ‘I collect both reef and giant squids’. “Squidses” sounds fun but is sadly not permitted.

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

RELATED POSTS

THE PLURAL OF OCTOPUS

Credits: As ever (for fabulous underwater pics) Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; research sources include MarineBio; Animal Diversity Web (Michigan Uni)