Behavior

There are few generalizations that can be made about the behavior of scorpaenoid fishes. Most scorpaenoids are territorial and lead solitary lives, except for the formation of mating aggregations. Scorpaenoids are masters of disguise. Many species have cryptic coloration; numerous leaflike appendages, or cirri; epibiotic growth; and bony ridges that give the appearance of rocks. Other scorpaenoid species have specialized pectoral fins that allow them to bury themselves in the sand. All of these features help scorpaenoids blend into their environment as they lie waiting for prey.

In addition to their camouflage and mimicry, scorpaenoids are protected in their environment by their pungent, venomous dorsal spines. Almost all scorpaenoids, except such groups as prowfishes (Pataecidae) and sea robins and their allies (Triglidae and Peristediidae), have venom glands associated with the fin spines. The venom from these glands has both neurotoxic (affecting the nervous system) and hemo-toxic (affecting the blood vessels) action, which has led to numerous human fatalities and given these species their infamous reputation. The venom of the colder-water species (e.g., the rockfishes, Sebastidae) generally has less severe effects, and that of the stonefishes (Synanceiidae) and lionfishes (Pterois) is most deadly. The stonefishes, in particular, have devised a particularly dastardly venom apparatus that has a hollowed-out dorsal spine with muscular control, which basically gives them a hypodermic needle to inject their deadly venom. Fortunately, we have learned that the effects of the venom are minimized if the affected area is soaked in very hot (not boiling) water to help denature the proteins; additionally, topical treatment with stonefish antivenoms limits the damage.

Pterois Volitans Eating
A red lionfish (Pterois volitans) eating a zebra turkeyfish (Dendrochirus zebra). (Photo by Tom McHugh/Steinhart Aquarium/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
Pleuronectes Platessa
A tub gurnard (Chelidonichthys lucerna) on top of a European plaice (Pleuronectes platessa). (Photo by Tom McHugh/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
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