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)

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

GRAYSBY (GROUPER): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (42)


Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

GRAYSBY (GROUPER): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (42)

The Graysby Cephalopholis cruentata is a small, spotty grouper, which grows to a maximum of around 16 inches. These rather unassuming and solitary fish have a preference for coral reefs, where they can blend in with their surroundings on ledges and in caves and crevices during the day. At night, they become active – that’s when they feed on feed on small fish, crabs and shrimps. 

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaGraysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

The graysby has variable colouring in a range from light brown to pale gray, with all-over spots that may be red, orange or brownish. Often, they have 3 to 5 contrasting spots on their backs, along the base of the dorsal fin, as below:

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaGraysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

The long erectile dorsal fin comprises both spines and ‘rays’ – spines at the front, rays at the back. Like this:

The spots of a graysby can change in colour (at least to a limited extent), becoming either paler or darker. I imagine this is a protective feature to enable the fish to blend in more easily with its reef surroundings. 

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Signalling to turn right…

I wondered if they are edible. I believe so – but then I also read that the larger adults carry the risk of ciguatera and raised mercury levels. So I’ll give it a miss thanks.

Photo & other credits: all photographs by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; aqua.org; SAMFC (drawing)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH


Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH

Yellowtails are just one of several damselfish species in Bahamas waters. These small fish are conspicuous not just for the bright tails that give them their name. More striking if anything – especially if seen underwater in sunlight against the coral – are the electric blue spots visible in both adults and juveniles.

Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The body of adults is dark blue to brownish to almost black 

The body of juveniles is blue

Yellowtails are a common and widespread variety of damselfish. They have a limited ability to change colour according to their surroundings, but with their bright tails and luminous blue flecks, it’s hard to see how they can look, to a predator, anything other than a tasty snack.

I have enjoyed seeing these little fish at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. The reef there makes for easy and rewarding snorkelling, with a wide variety of small and medium-size reef fishes to be seen. It’s an expedition I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to see a healthy and active reef in a completely natural protected area.

I found that a video I took with a tiny camera was sadly of use only to myself. No one else would be able to make anything out due to the marked camera shake. Novices, huh? You are spared that: here’s a brief example of yellowtails swimming instead, showing the difference between juveniles and adults.

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; video from Desert Diving

HAWKSBILL TURTLES + ANGELS = REEF HEAVEN


Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES + ANGELS = REEF HEAVEN

Hawksbills on their own, nosing around the colourful coral reefs of the Bahamas, are a beautiful sight. I don’t want to overdo the religious tendency of the title, but they are indeed wonderful to behold. Add FRENCH ANGELFISH and a QUEEN ANGELFISH and it’s as close to perfection as a reef scene gets. Click on the links above for more pictures and details about the two angelfish species seen here with the turtle. As ever, Melinda Riger was ready with her camera to capture these great images.

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This astonishing photo was of course achieved by carefully balancing a GoPro on the turtle’s back, wrapping duct tape around it, and pressing ‘go’ (camera and turtle simultaneously). **

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

** This is not true. It’s just a cleverly shot turtle’s-eye view as it forages on the reef

This short video shot by Melinda’s husband Fred of a turtle ‘loving’ the camera is one of those wildlife events that cannot be predicted… but when it happens, it’s frankly a bit of a scoop.

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

As I was writing this, an earworm started up and grew insidiously in both ears and then inside my head… the dread words “Elenore, gee I think you’re swell”. Followed by “so happy together…”. And then “she’d rather be with me…” Yes, I’ve now got TURTLES in my head, the (?long-and-hitherto-forgotten) band from the second half of the 60’s, with their cheery anodyne soppy-poppy love songs. And dammit, they’ve stuck… Here’s a reminder for those whose memory I have jogged. For anyone under, say, 75, step away from this area. Nothing to hear here.

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: Grand Bahama Scuba: all photos – Melinda Riger & video – Fred Riger; Turtle music – someone else’s music collection, not mine, honestly… (oh dear another lie I am afraid – cred gone)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (36): REEF BUTTERFLYFISH


Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

 BAHAMAS REEF FISH (36): REEF BUTTERFLYFISH

Butterflyfishes come in several varieties in Bahamian waters; and there are more than 120 species worldwide. Not so long ago I wrote about the LONGSNOUT variety, also known as the “Butterbun”. Now it’s time to take a look at the Reef Butterfyfish.

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

In some ways butterflyfishes resemble small angelfishes – adult Reefs are just a few inches long. As the name suggests, these are creatures of the reefs, and of shallow waters. As one might expect, these colourful fish are popular for aquariums (or, strictly I suppose, aquaria). 

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Butterflyfishes have interesting spawning patterns. They release large numbers of buoyant eggs into the water. These become mixed in with plankton and suchlike, and float where the tides take them until they hatch. Then, most unusually, they go through a larval stage when they are covered by bony material, which they lose as they mature. This is known as an ‘armoured’ stage, which I can only assume is to provide protection to the tiny fry – perhaps by making them crunchy and unappetising. I’ve been trying to find a usable illustrative drawing, without success so far.

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

In some parts of the world the butterflyfish is called a BORBOLETTA, which is Portugese for ‘butterfly’. It is also the title of Santana’s criminally underrated sixth album (1974). For sure it’s no 1st, Abraxas, 3rd or Caravanserai… but if you can tolerate the man’s move to ‘jazz-funk-fusion’ – maybe John McLaughlin had a hand in that – there is much to enjoy. There’s less searing guitar and there’s some strange ‘soundscape’ stuff that’s maybe not to everyone’s taste. But still – it stand up pretty well in comparison with some of the later Carlos creations where a certain tiresomeness began to creep in and some tracks are (IMVHO) not really listenable-to. Anyway, the recently released (2016) Santana IV is a welcome return to the good old days, and the good old team.

Here’s ‘Promise of a Fisherman’ – 8 minutes of  Santana, from which you can judge the direction he’s taken by Album 6…

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

All photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba – mainstay, with Adam Rees, of the underwater photos I use, what with me being a feeble swimmer and all. Tip o’ the Hat to Carlos, who I have even managed to see Live a couple of times.

REDSPOTTED HAWKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (35)


Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

REDSPOTTED HAWKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (35)

The redspotted hawkfish (Amblycirrhitus pinos) is one of a number of species of hawkfishes found worldwide. This one is found on the sub-tropical and tropical reefs of the Western Atlantic, and is therefore a fish you might see when out snorkelling or (more likely) scuba-ing in the Bahamas. These are small creatures – adults are unlikely to exceed 4 inches in length.

Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

There’s not a whole lot else to report about them. They have no medicinal superpowers, for example, nor wickedly toxic spines. A quick scroll through the highways and byways of the interweb reveals that redspotted hawkfish are considered (rightly, I think) to be attractive, tend to be shy, enjoy perching on coral ledges, and are generally benign, except to smaller fishes to which they may show aggression or – worse – an appetite. 

Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

As you might predict, these pretty little fish are popular in the aquarium trade, where on any view they should be kept safe from predators. But maybe captivity is a little limited in opportunities for travel and exploration. They can be bought for (I just checked) $29.99. Or else left alone on a reef to take their chances.

Photo Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as per…