The Red Scorpionfish: Habitat and Characteristics

The red scorpionfish is a fish with poisonous spiny rays. Despite this, it's used to prepare delicious dishes. Do you want to know more about its life in the sea?
The Red Scorpionfish: Habitat and Characteristics
Georgelin Espinoza Medina

Written and verified by the biologist Georgelin Espinoza Medina.

Last update: 29 June, 2023

The red scorpionfish is a venomous and striking fish due to its red or orange coloration. It’s also well known for its flavor and nutritional value, and is used to prepare high-quality dishes. In particular, the famous scorpionfish pie. It has many popular names including the large-scaled scorpion fish and rascasse.

Its scientific name is Scorpaena scrofa and it belongs to the Scorpenidae family, which includes about 222 species. If you’re curious about the natural life of the protagonist of such delicious dishes, this space is for you.

Habitat and distribution of the red scorpionfish

This fish is nocturnal and is located on the seabed, although it can also inhabit brackish waters.

It’s found in a variety of beds, from rocky and muddy to sandy. This allows it to camouflage and go unnoticed. The depths it occupies are variable and range from 10 to 500 meters (32 to 1640 feet).

It’s mainly distributed in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, from Norway to Senegal, including the British Isles, the Canary Islands, Madeira and Cape Verde. It’s also widely distributed in the Mediterranean Sea.

In addition to this, it has a circum-African distribution, as it can be found in Angola and South Africa as far as Somalia, and also in the Red Sea. However, there seems to be a gap between Namibia and Guinea, where this species is replaced by another scorpionfish: Scorpaena stephanica.

Physical characteristics of the red scorpionfish

This fish has a stocky, elongated body covered with big spines and appendages. It’s about 30 centimeters long (12 inches), and never usually exceeds 50 cm (20 inches) in length. Generally, the female tends to be larger.

The spines and appendanges give the red scorpion an intimidating appearance.

A publication in the journal Acta Aquatica Turcica, from 2019, evaluated the size and weight of red scorpionfish from Izmir Bay, in the Aegean Sea (Turkey). It was found that females measured between 16 and 30 centimeters in length (6 to 12 inches) and weighed between 73 and 441 grams (2.6 to nearly 15 oz). Males were 17.7 to 28 centimeters long (7 to 11 inches) and weighed up to 378 grams (13.3 oz)

The head of the redfish is large, as are its lips. Its eyes are oval in shape. Teeth are present on both the upper and lower jaws, but these are small and conical.

Appendages include tubercles on the top of the head and some on top of the mouth and under the lower jaw. They also have spines around the orbits and operculum.


The dorsal fin is notable for having spiny rays that are connected to venomous glands. However, it isn’t lethal, but it can cause significant pain and inflammation.

Therefore, it’s very important to be careful when handling it. Even when it’s dead, since its compounds remain active for some time.

Other aspects to identify these animals are the number of spines (rays) that their fins have and the nature of these spines. For example, the dorsal fin is made up of two types of spines (joined by a membrane); the first are rigid (12 in number) and the second are soft (9 or 10).

The caudal fin has 3 hard and 5 to 6 soft rays. The pectoral fin has more spines, but only of a soft nature, ranging in number from 18 to 20.


The coloration of the body tends to be variable, ranging from reddish-brown to pinkish tones, adorned with spots (light and dark). It has a black speck in the middle of the dorsal fin as a distinctive feature.


These fish are characterized by being solitary, sedentary, and having nocturnal habits.

During the day they usually rest, remain quiet, even without any movement on the bottoms where they live. Their coloration allows them to camouflage themselves with the environment and protect themselves from enemies.

What does the red scorpionfish feed on?

The diet of the scorpionfish is completely carnivorous. It’s based on a diversity of invertebrates (such as crustaceans and mollusks) and some kinds of fish. The latter are their preferred food, depending on availability.

Their diet shows little seasonal variation. The method they use for hunting is very peculiar, as they simply remain motionless, blending in with the substrate.

Reproductive characteristics

There’s little information on the reproduction of this species. The known aspects include the period and some characteristics of their initial phases (eggs and larvae):

  • They’re oviparous, with external fertilization.
  • Generally, the reproductive period of these fish occurs between the months of May and August.
  • In a study published in the journal Cybium in 2007, the embryonic and larval development of scorpionfish was observed in the laboratory. They observed that the eggs are ellipsoidal in shape. They’re also pelagic, with a diameter varying from 0.83 to 0.96 millimeters.
  • Although scorpionfish are benthic, their larvae are planktonic, that is, they’re at the mercy of currents.

Conservation status

This scorpionfish isn’t endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies it in the category of Least Concern, thanks to its wide distribution. The main threat is fishing, although it doesn’t significantly affect populations.

Consumption aspects

The meat of this specimen is highly appreciated, especially locally. It’s white, with a unique flavor and excellent nutritional properties.

It’s marketed both fresh and frozen and different dishes are prepared with it. The most popular is the scorpionfish pie made by master chef Juan Mari Arzak. It’s also prepared as fillets or in soups and stews.

As we can see, the red scorpionfish isn’t only famous in gastronomy, but also has an interesting life in the seas where it lives. Its spiny, colorful body with appendages gives it a unique appearance that goes unnoticed and allows it to camouflage with the environment.

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