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Sea of Cortez 810

Family Scorpaenidae
Scorpionfishes and Rockfishes
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Order: Scorpaeniformes

Key Features:
Typically a compressed stout body; head will often have ridges and spines.  Often camofluaged with remarkable cryptic coloration.  Usually a single notched dorsal fin and ctenoid scales if they are present.  Dorsal, anal and pelvic fins may all be venomous depending on the species.  In Sea of Cortez, mainly dorsal fins are venomous.

Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez

Scorpaena mystes
Scorpaenodes xyris

Pacific Spotted Scorpionfish
Rainbow Scorpionfish


Scorpaena mystes
Stone Scorpionfish

San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico

Family Scorpaenidae
Scorpionfishes and Rockfishes (Peces Escorpion)

Common throughout the world’s oceans, members of the family Scorpaenidae are a diverse and speciose resident of reef systems.  In California alone there are at least sixty-four species present within this family.  Worldwide this family comprises the stonefish, the scorpionfish, lionfish and rockfishes.  Some members of this family possess strong venom and can deliver a potent sting through their dorsal, pelvic, or anal spines.  Australian species within this family may deliver excruciating, debilitating, and sometimes fatal stings that are characterized by massive tissue damage and impairment of cardiac function.  Within the Sea of Cortez only two species are widely distributed in the habitats frequented by scuba divers.  Neither of these species causes a particularly dangerous reaction to their venoms, although the sting is still extremely painful and can cause localized tissue damage and systemic effects that may last for days. 

scorpaena mystes the pacific spotted scorpionfish in the Sea of Cortez

This author has had three encounters with the venom of stone scorpionfish, Scorpaena mystes, with the reaction to each sting becoming increasingly severe.  The first sting caused tremendous swelling, pain, fever and nausea, which lasted for several days.  The subsequent stings, which occurred over one year later, had fewer acute effects but the systemic effects were longer lasting and the third sting required intensive medication to counter a severe drop in blood pressure. 

It should be noted that while these fishes do have some potential for inflicting injury they do so only defensively, often when a diver mistakes them for a rock (first incident).  The two subsequent stings of this author occurred while handling them in a laboratory situation. 

The most commonly encountered scorpionfish in the Gulf is the stone scorpionfish. Scorpaenna mystes.  Growing to lengths of up to one foot, it is found throughout the Sea of Cortez at depths ranging from only a few inches, to over two hundred feet in depth.  Outstandingly camouflaged it is a lie in wait predator, ready to gulp down any passing fishes that can fit in its ample mouth.  There is only one other scorpionfish found commonly in the Sea of Cortez.  This is the rainbow scropionfish, Scorpaenodes xyris.  Substantially smaller, at a maximum size of about three inches, this reclusive fish can most easily be differentiated from the stone scorpionfish by the presence of a large dark opercular spot. 


Updated August 28, 2009

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