California Scorpionfish (Scorpaena guttata)


The California scorpionfish is an excellent food fish and the most venomous member of the scorpionfish family. It has venom glands that are attached to the dorsal, the pelvic, and the anal fin spines, and if these spines penetrate the skin, an intense and excruciating pain in the area of the wound occurs almost immediately.

If there are multiple punctures, the wound can induce shock, respiratory distress, or abnormal heart action and sometimes leads to hospitalization of the victim. The California scorpionfish is often called a sculpin but is not a member of the sculpin family.

Identification

The California scorpionfish has a stocky and slightly compressed body, as well as a large head and mouth. Colored red to brown, with dark patches and spots on the body and the fins, this fish is capable of dramatic color changes to blend with its background. It has large pectoral fins, 12 poisonous dorsal spines, and poisonous anal and ventral fin spines.

Size/Age

The California scorpionfish can grow to 17 inches and can live 15 years.

Life history/Behavior

California scorpionfish start spawning at age 3 or 4. Spawning activity occurs from April through August, most likely at night. The eggs are implanted in a single layer on the gelatinous walls of hollow, pear-shaped “balloons” of 5 to 10 inches in length; these are released on the bottom and rise to the surface, and the eggs hatch within the next 5 days.

Food

The California scorpionfish feeds on crabs, squid, octopus, fish, and shrimp.

OTHER NAMES
spotted scorpionfish, scorpion, rattlesnake, bullhead, scorpene, sculpin; Spanish: rascacio californiano.

Distribution

In the eastern Pacific, this species occurs from Santa Cruz, California, to Punta Abreojos, Baja California, including a cloistered population in the northern Gulf of California and at Guadalupe Island in Mexico.

Habitat

California scorpionfish usually live in caves, crevices, and rocky areas of bays along the shore, from just below the surface to 600-foot depths. Resting quietly during the day among rocky reefs and kelp beds, they emerge at night and are often seen by night divers in the open near kelp and eelgrass beds. Some are occasionally found over sand or mud bottoms.
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