There are many different sorts of Scorpion Fish but here on Koh Tao we are graced with the presence of just 1 of those, that of the Bearded Scorpion Fish – scorpaenopsis barbata. Divers consider themselves lucky to see them as they are so well camouflaged it’s actually pretty hard to spot them until you’ve seen quite a few and know what to look out for!
Being deep red to brown in colour with black and white blotches along with the odd wart here and there, they blend in superbly with rocks and coral so the way to spot them is to look for their eyes – this is easiest done with a torch as their eyes will reflect the torch light. Also you can look out for their upside down mouthspectoral fins as they tend to be slightly spread to stabilize themselves on the rock that they happen to be perched on.
Although they come with a warning of danger, scorpion fish are not aggressive. They are ambush predators that feed mainly on crustaceans, cephalopods and fish smaller than themselves by way of employing their mouth as a vacuum to suck in their prey within milliseconds.
The danger arises when they become frightened, for example when a diver accidentally puts their hands all over them in an attempt to balance themselves… They flare up and their spikes that run along the scorpion fish back release poisonous venom that results in severe pain and swelling within seconds of being stung.
Luckily the treatment is very simple and easy to remember! You simply wash the affected area with warm water and then soak in the hottest water you can stand for 90minutes – heat inactivates at least one of the toxins present in the venom to relieve the pain.
Of course prevention is better than the cure so in all of your pre-dive briefings here you will be reminded not to touch anything in the sea except when necessary and then to waft the area you are about to touch. This way if there is a scorpion fish where you are about to touch, it will quickly dart away!
The dive site that seems to be most popular for scorpion fish sightings is the magnificent Sailrock! Each time we go, our instructor and divemaster team compete to see who can see the most!! Closer to Koh Tao, we see them on Twins, White Rock, Chumphon Pinnacle and South West –so plenty of opportunity to challenge yourself to see how many you can see whilst you’re here!