Leaffish/Velvetfish Marine Biology

Order: Scorpaeniformes

Spines along the jawline of  Scorpaeniformes
Spines along the jawline of
Scorpaeniformes

Inhabiting all tropical and most subtropical seas the family Scorpaenida represents a large array of fishes including stonefish, leaf fish, velvet fish, waspfish, lionfish, crocodilefish, and scorpionfish which are all featured on this site.

Most are benthic creatures and rarely swim, all of them possess venomous spines of varying potency.

Leaffish, Velvetfish and the like, lay eggs of jelly like masses which are pelagic and float to the water’s surface.

Once hatched the juveniles spend many months in the water column slowly descending to the bottom where they grow into ferocious, sit-and-wait predators feeding on fish and crustaceans.

Venomous dorsal spines of  Scorpaeniformes
Venomous dorsal spines of
Scorpaeniformes

Common characteristics of Scorpaeniformes include a head and mouth quite large in relation to the rest of their body, with armour like ridges are around the cheek.

Venomous spines line the dorsal and anal fins fo Velvetfish and Leaffish. Each fin has 2 venom sacks at the base, which are squeezed together when contact is made, thus injecting the poison.

The more spines that make contact – the more venom is received.

The sting of a Stonefish can be fatal as their venom is the most potent. Other species are generally not life threatening, but is still excruciatingly painful.

This Juvenile is tentatively described as  a Leaf Scorpionfish, it was 1cm in size
This Juvenile is tentatively described as
a Leaf Scorpionfish, it was 1cm in size

We were once witness to a catfish impalement through a scuba boot. At the time we were 600km from the nearest medical facility (a situation many divers find themselves in).

Fortunately we knew how to treat the wound with heat to break down the protein.

We submerged the foot in hot water, which effectively provided slow relief.

However for three days the victim was in excruciating pain, which eased, but did not dissapear for weeks.

Generally seen perching itself on coral  heads or substrate
Generally seen perching itself
on coral heads or substrate

The recommended treatment for such wounds is to seek professional medical assistance as some require intensive care.

Once a Scorpaeniforme is discovered, which can be difficult due to their cryptic appearance, they make good photo subjects.

Unless provoked they are not particularly bothered by divers and will remain present and stationary.

Family: Scorpaenidae

Species: Taenianotus triacanthus – Leaf Scorpionfish or Paper Scorpionfish

Leaf Scorpionfish
Leaf Scorpionfish

With an unusually thin compressed appearance and foot like pectoral fins which it will use for support and mobility, they gently sway in the surge like a dead leaf.

Notice their relatively small mouth compared to other members of the Scorpaeniformes order.

This species is perfectly camouflaged to its surroundings often showing algae growth to match its environment.

They exist in a variety of colours including yellow, white, brown, pink and tones of reds.

Leaf Scorpionfish or Paper Scorpionfish
Leaf Scorpionfish or Paper Scorpionfish

Leaf Scorpionfish is primarily an ambush predator.

It generally perches itself on coral heads or lies on the substrate feeding on crustaceans or fish.

They will usually stay in the vicinity of the same location for many months and often if you find one there will be another one or two fairly close by.

Their distribution is widespread throughout tropical oceans and they grow to approximately 11cm in size.

Always a joy to see during any dive.

Family Tetrarogidae

Species: Ablabys taenianoyus – Cockatoo Wasp Fish or Leaf Fish

Easily recognized by the sail like dorsal fin
Easily recognized by the sail like dorsal fin

The Cackatoo Wasp Fish or Leaf Fish is a cousin to the leaf scorpionfish and can grow up to 15cm in size.

Although, unlike its cousin, they are usually brown in colour.

Cackatoo Wasp Fish are easily recognized by the long sail like dorsal fin, which originates above the eyes illustrated right.

They are found on sand and mud slopes and are usually associated with areas close to deep water.

Favoring crustaceans like shrimp, Cackatoo Wasp Fish will rarely leave the substrate.

Family Aploactinidae

Species: Paraploactis kagoshimensis – Phantom Velvet Fish

Phantom Velvet Fish with numerous bony  ridges and blunt spines
Phantom Velvet Fish with numerous
bony ridges and blunt spines

This species is poorly understood probably because it is rarely seen due to its cryptic appearance.

Its preferred habitat is among vegetation, or rocky, shelly, coral rubble, or coralline algae substrata, areas where previously few divers would visit.

However, with “muck” diving becoming more popular, divers are now finding weird and wonderful creatures such as the velvet fish.

The fish has a mixture of appearence between the elongated body of wasp fish and chunkiness of the scorpion fish, but all three are related.

Note the lighter colouration of this  species compared to other examples  inhabiting darker sand
Note the lighter colouration of this
species compared to other examples
inhabiting darker sand

The head has numerous bony ridges and blunt spines and often shows algae growth to match its environment, as do most Scorpaeniformes.

Amazingly, this is a fish that can not swim as they have evolved without a gas bladder making them negatively buoyant.

In actual fact the first time we saw one we thought it to be dying as it swayed uncomfortably among bottom debris.

The sand in our images is much lighter than that in parts of Indonesia where this fish can somtimes be encountered.

Interestingly the creature is also much lighter as it blends with its surrounding environment.

Learn to Dive with PADI Scuba diving courses for divers visiting Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and Borneo.
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