Leaf Me Alone

By Annabel Thomas

For The Bali Times

SEMINYAK ~ The Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus)is a pretty, rather ornate fish popular with underwater photographers and is often the first “weird” fish spotted by beginner divers due to the fact that it is often found out in the open.

They are also known by the common names Leaf Fish and Paper Fish and are from the family Scorpaenidae; they grow up to a maximum 25 centimeters and are widely found in areas from East Africa to the Galapagos Islands, north to Okinawa and south to New South Wales and the Red Sea.

Their habitat is at depths of less than 1 meter to over 134 meters on reef flats, reef channels, fore-reef slopes or on lagoon reefs – basically in areas protected from strong water movement.

Leaf Scorpionfishes often sit out in the open, for example at the entrance to cavelettes and crevices, and around corals and gorgonian seafans so that, if threatened, they have an instant hiding place. They frequently occur in pairs, with one individual larger than the other. Occasionally the Leaf Scorpionfish can be found in groups of up to eight individuals.

The name comes from its unusual appearance. Put simply, with its small, compressed body and long, high, sail-like dorsal fin, it resembles a leaf (or macroalgae frond). Another part of its camouflage is that it also mimics bits of plant debris by rocking back and forth, or swaying from side-to-side with the water movement. It has a “beard” of fine appendages around its mouth on which hydroids and algae often grow.

They vary in color, from black, maroon, red, pink, brown, tan, bright yellow and white, with dark or light mottling. Bi-colored specimens do exist, generally with one overall color with a similar color on the back and dorsal fins (e.g. orange with yellow).

The coloration can change slightly as a result of shedding of the cuticle (quite common in this fish) or if they are moved from one-color background to another. Juveniles, when small, are nearly transparent.

Leaf Scorpionfishes are easy to approach underwater, but will retreat if you get too close. They are venomous – so, as always underwater, don’t touch. Incidentally they are monotypic, which means it’s the only species in the Taenianotus genus.

The writer is director of AquaMarine Diving – Bali.

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