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Book Excerpt: Lionfishes and Other Scorpionfishes

by Tsing Mui on October 21, 2010 at 6:43 am

Lionfishes and Other Scorpionfishes (Aquarium Success)

Chapter 5

Species Guide: The Odd, Unusual, and Amazing

Genus Inimicus

These fish inhabit sandy and muddy bottoms in sea grass fields, estuaries, and neighboring reefs. Although Inimicus species prefer shallower water, there are records locating them in as deep as 90 meters (300 feet). There are about ten species, of which three are found with any regularity in the hobby. Inimicus differs from Choridactylus by its flattened snout, eyes set high on the head, and two free pectoral fin rays that are used as fingers. In Japan, Inimicus are cultured as a delicacy food, and induced ovulation using hormones to increase production has been reported (Takusima, 2003).

Like the other choridactylines, these stingfish spend their day half buried or mostly buried in the soft sand, with only their eyes, dorsal fins, and mouth exposed. Individuals frequently have their two free pectoral fin rays placed ahead of the body and dug into the substrate in case a food item zips by; the fish can then spring into pursuit. Some species have even higher-set eyes and an upturned mouth that allows the fish to bury themselves more completely to really surprise passing food. In the wild they eat mainly fish, but they readily take live shrimp.

Inimicus are some of my most favorite scorpions. I have kept fishes of this genus on and off for 10 years. Each of them had a distinct personality and very interesting hunting behaviors. Their strategies include an ambush attack from underneath the sand, a relatively fast stalking using the pectoral fingers to scamper quickly to the food, and a pounce from above. They readily fed on live ghost shrimp and small feeder guppies, and I successfully weaned them onto prepared foods, although it did take longer than I had hoped. These fish spend their day buried with just their eyes sticking out of the sand, and they spring to life when food hits the water. It is reported that Inimicus kept in groups will fight, but they never bother tankmates too large to swallow. Mine were hardy and disease resistant, ate consistently, and shed their cuticles with regularity. Another reminder: they pack a very potent sting, stronger than a lionfish sting.

Inimicus caladonicus

Common Names: Bearded ghoul, Caledonian sea goblin, Caledonian stinger, Chinese ghoul, demon stinger, demon stingerfish.

Size: 10 inches (25 cm)

Distribution: Eastern Indian Ocean: Andaman and Nicobar Islands; West Pacific: Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New Caledonia.

This fish is very similar to I. didactylus but differs in the coloration of its pectoral fins, in which the inner surface contains a dark band that runs through the middle and a dark band on the inner axial of the fin. Additionally, Caledonian sea goblins frequently have white spots in front of their elevated but wide-set eyes.

Sea goblin (I. caladonicus) photographed in the waters off Sulawesi, Indonesia. These fish dwell mostly in muddy- or sandy-bottomed water and seagrass beds.

Inimicus didactylus

Common Names: Bearded ghoul, demon stinger, devil stinger, longsnout stinger, longsnout stingerfish, popeyed sea goblin, spiny devilfish.

Size: 10 inches (25 cm)

Distribution: Indo-West Pacific: Thailand to Vanuatu, north to Ryukyu Islands and southeast China.

I. didactylus makes a fine aquarium resident. It requires at least 2 inches of fine sand or sandy substrate. In my experience this fish frequently comes in with amazing colorations—such as yellow, red, and white. The red variants look like living piles of red sponge with encrusting algae. Gray fish tend to have uniquely colored pectoral fins. I. didactylus differs from its congeners in the undersides of its pectoral fins: a sweeping yellow or white band with a darkened half-moon center. It also has a slightly upturned mouth.

Inimicus didactylus flaring out its brightly colored pectoral fins in a territorial display.

Inimicus filamentosus

Common Names: Barred ghoul, devil scorpionfish, filamented sea goblin, filament-finned stinger, two-stick stingfish.

Size: 10 inches (25 cm)

Distribution: Western Indian Ocean: the Red Sea and East Africa to the Maldives.

The filamented sea goblin appears to be an advanced form of Inimicus, as it has both an upturned mouth and high-set fused eyes, allowing it to almost completely bury itself and still efficiently ambush unsuspecting food. The species can be readily identified from other Inimicus by the presence of two extended filaments on the pectoral rays, and by the yellow, red flasher colors on the underside of its pectoral fins. I have not seen this fish in many other body colors except dull grayish brown, with pinkish overtones; however, has an image of a reddish pink specimen. This fish is quite uncommon at pet stores. Care and husbandry is the same as the other Inimicus species, if you can find it.

I. filamentosus showing the eye-catching pattern on its pectoral fins. This fish was photographed in the Red Sea near the Sinai Peninsula.


Once included in Scorpaenidae, subfamily Tetraroginae, the waspfishes are now considered a separate scorpaeniform family, Tetrarogidae. Features that exclude them from Scorpaenidae include a dorsal fin that originates above and in front of the eyes, in contrast to the scorpionfishes, in which the dorsal fin originates well behind the eyes. Waspfishes have contiguous-appearing dorsal, caudal, and anal fins, whereas scorpionfishes have those three fins separate. Waspfishes also possess small scales embedded into their skins, and they are more laterally compressed than typical scorpionfish (except the leaf scorpionfish). Taxonomic considerations aside, waspfish look like scorpionfish, act like scorpionfish, carry venom like scorpionfish, and require the same care as scorpionfish.

Of the many genera and species in this family, only three species (in two genera) are seen in the hobby with any regularity. These animals are wonderful aquarium specimens. Besides being relatively small, they are also extremely sedentary and spend most of their day in one spot or slowly hopping along the bottom in search of food. Always ensure that your waspfish’s tankmates do not out-compete them for food and do not pick on them as food items.

These fish blend well into dark substrates and piles of live rock. Aiding their external camouflage is their habit of slowly rocking side to side as if they are algae swaying in the current.

Waspfish are incredibly slow feeders and cannot be placed in a tank with any fast-swimming fish. I found them difficult to feed and only got them to eat live ghost shrimp; they had little interest in feeder guppies. Eventually I was able to wean them onto prepared frozen mysis shrimp; however, they always preferred live food.

The basic husbandry requirement for all the species of waspfish appears to be the same. They prefer a mellow community tank, with slow-feeding neighbors. Good tankmates would include: small scorpionfish, leaffish, and smaller antennarids (anglerfish). The tank can be aquascaped with small piles of live rock or rubble that include a few hiding spots, or even containing live macroalgae for the fish to hide in during the day. I’ve kept up to three waspfish in the same 30-gallon (115-liter) tank with no visible fighting, and as mentioned in the breeding section, I was able to get these fish to spawn.

Ablabys macracanthus

Common Names: Spiny leaf fish, spiny waspfish.

Size: 8 inches (20 cm)

Distribution: Indo-West Pacific.

This species is less commonly available than A. taenianotus but does show up occasionally. The dorsal fin crest starts ahead of the eyes, making it slant backward down to the face, while in A. taenianotus it is nearly vertical.

Ablabys taenianotus

Common Names: Cockatoo fish, cockatoo leaf-fish, cockatoo waspfish, leaf fish, rogue fish, roque fish, rouge fish.

Size: 6 inches (15 cm)

Distribution: Eastern Indian Ocean and Western Pacific

This is the more common species seen in pet stores. Individuals are varied in coloration, ranging from dark brown to golden, but usually are a solid color. Reportedly female cockatoo waspfish have single white spots or blotches above and below their lateral lines on both sides of their body, while males lack spots above the lateral line. Also male cockatoo waspfish are reported to have one or two white spots on the distal edge of their gill opercula, while females do not.

Although no longer considered to be in the same family as the scorpionfish, the waspfish are very similar in appearance, behavior, and care. A. taenianotus is shown here.

Paracentropogon longispinus

Common Names: Long-spined waspfish, whiteface roguefish, whiteface waspfish, wispy waspfish.

Size: 5 inches (13 cm)

Distribution: Indo-West Pacific: southern India to southern China and New Caledonia.

This waspfish looks more like a scorpionfish, with a dorsal fin that starts directly above the eyes. This is the only species in this genus that I have seen for sale. While coloration is said to be extremely varied, ranging from solid brown to rust red to pink and white, every specimen I’ve encountered was solid brown, with a white rectangle on the face.


You now have a good foundation for enjoying scorpaeniform fishes in your own aquaria, and you’ve had an overview of most of the species you will find for sale in the aquarium hobby. I’ve incorporated my more than 20 years of hands-on experience keeping these fishes into this book and shared with you, the reader, useful tips and techniques to help you succeed with them. I hope you will consider rising to the challenge of breeding these fishes in your tanks, and I wish you luck in discovering the secrets to successfully rearing the fry of these magnificent animals.

The long-spined waspfish is the species most often found in the aquarium hobby. It is an extremely slow feeder and strongly prefers live over prepared food.


A Scorpaeniform to Avoid

Stonefishes, species in the subfamily Synanceiinae of the family Synanceiidae, are the most venomous fishes in the world. People are usually envenomated when they step on a concealed fish, and they usually die. While all the other fish covered in this book are venomous and warrant extremely careful handling, their stings are not generally lethal. Stonefish, on the other hand, have no place in the aquarium hobby.

Excerpted from the book Lionfishes and Other Scorpionfishes: The Complete Guide to the Successful Care and Breeding of These Spectacular and Popular Marine Fish. ISBN 9780793816798; August 2010. © T.F.H. Publications Inc. Used with permission.

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Posted in Aquatic Books by Tsing Mui on October 21st, 2010 at 6:43 am.

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