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125. Scorpion Leaffish (Taenianotus triacanthus)


The Scorpion Leaffish (Taenianotus triacanthus) is a small but widespread ambush predator that feeds on tiny crustaceans and smaller fish in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is known to divers and underwater videographers and photographers by different names depending on the region, such as Leaf Scorpionfish, Paperfish, Paper Scorpionfish, Sailfin Leaffish, or Threespine Scorpionfish.

This fish is found in all types of coral reefs and at at liveable depths, from the warm waters of the Red Sea to the rich waters of the Indonesian and Philippine archipelago, and even in the cooler and current-swept waters of the Galapagos islands.

The Scorpion Leaffish is named after its leaf-like appearance, and when there is water movement, it tends to swing from side to side. Although it is a solitary benthic fish, it can be found in small groups of several individuals.

It comes in various colours, ranging from orange, red, pink, purple, different hues of yellow, white, cream, dark brown, to almost black. Due to its stunning appearance, it is a favourite subject among underwater photographers and videographers.

This small fish, which is a member of the Scorpionfish family and venomous, moults every two weeks and can change colour after the moult. Its venom is weaker than that of scorpionfish and almost insignificant compared to the toxins of stonefish, but a sting from this photogenic little predator can still be quite painful.

The Scorpion Leaffish is a voracious predator that feeds on small fish and shrimp and can swallow anything that fits in its mouth. It approaches its prey slowly by walking on its pectoral fins, then suddenly opens its mouth wide and fast, creating a vacuum that sucks in everything small enough to swallow in whole.


The Scorpion Leaffish is quite easy to spot on reefs and is not as rare as some other family members, such as waspish. They tend to hang out in their habitual spots, which are known by local dive guides. For example, in Padang Bai's Blue Lagoon in Bali, Indonesia, there used to be a coral bommie that has hosted as many as twelve different individuals of different colours at the same time.

Although they do not swim around, they can be challenging to film or to photograph for any underwater videographer or photographer for several reasons. Their flat body shape is very sensitive to water movement, causing them to wiggle a lot.

They are often found under coral branches, in between rocks and near or in cracks and fissures on the reef, which are not the easiest places to reach with bulky equipment like an underwater video camera equipped with strobes or video lights.

They also like to reside where their preferred food lives, namely schools of small fish such as glassfish and Cardinalfish. These little preyfish can be real spoilsports for any underwater photographer or videographer who wants a clear shot of the Leaffish.

Patience is key, as always in underwater videography, because trying to wave the little preyfish away will not work.

More on this topic:

To see how a Scorpion Leaffish is attacked and chased away by a Threespot Dascyllus please go to our vlog post 54 or click on this link: https://www.beyondscuba.com/post/damsel-s-territory

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