Physical characteristics

Most sea robins and armored sea robins are medium-sized fishes, up to 15.7 in (40 cm). Their most conspicuous characters are their greatly expanded pectoral fins and a head that is completely encased in bony plates. The armored sea robins, as their name suggests, take this protection one step further. Their entire body is covered with spine-bearing plates. Like

A Pacific spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena mystes) mimicking the colorful sponges near Darwin Island, Galápagos Islands. (Photo by Fred McConnaughey/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

the flying gurnards (Dactylopteridae) and some stonefishes (Synanceiidae), both families have detached, fingerlike pectoral rays that they use as tactile and chemoreceptive organs. These elongate, free rays also are used for "walking" along the seafloor in search of prey.

The scorpionfishes and their relatives have a wide range of sizes, from the smallest velvetfishes at 0.8-1.2 in (2-3 cm) to the largest rockfishes at about 39.4 in (about 100 cm). Their diversity of sizes is matched by their diversity in body forms, with only numerous sharp spines being common to all species, although most species could be described as "bass-like." Scor-paenoids fall into one of two categories. The first group is composed of the brightly colored, highly venomous species (e.g., the lionfishes) that hover around coral reefs displaying their warning coloration. The second category is made up of the cryptic species. These species tend to be dominated by colors that mimic their surroundings. Additionally, these species are covered with numerous cirri, fleshy appendages, spines, and ridges; these appendages provide additional camouflage.

A spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumieri) is well camouflaged in the coral of the Caribbean. (Photo by Animals Animals ©Franklin J. Viola. Reproduced by permission.)

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