Scorpionfish are a pretty common sighting on reefs throughout the world. However one of the subfamilies of Scorpaenidae have become the Holy Grail of fish for many divers and underwater photographers.
There are a few dive sites in Indonesia where you might be lucky enough to encounter a Rhinopias but one of the best itineraries for multiple chances to see both of the Rhinopias species is in the Alor archipelago.
These ornate fish have very distinctive eyebrows and a long snout-like nose with a moustache. Some of the moustaches are rather elaborate.
The Weedy Scorpionfish aka Rhinopias frondosa is so called for its numerous short-branched skin flaps and filaments. The Dive Damai guides regularly see the yellow variety on mucky reef slopes hanging out in the Halimeda weed but these fish also like the protection of the soft corals. Despite being large fish their markings are very cryptic and you need sharp eyes to differentiate them from their surroundings.
We recently enjoyed a pair of Weedies in Lembata. They were an unlikely couple with their very photogenic yellow and purple colouring.
This pink one took on the camouflage of the delicate pink algae found at Pulau Pura.
The Paddle-flap Scorpionfish aka Rhinopias eschmeyeri is less ornate but no less interesting. It has flat, paddle-like, unbranched skin flaps and is more uniformly coloured. We found this beautiful orange example in Alor on the mucky slopes of Kalabahi Bay.
And this beige coloured one on Pulau Pura.
The third species of Rhinopias is the Lacy Scorpionfish aka Rhinopias aphanes. This one has long, lacy skin flaps and filaments, lace-like structure of the pectoral fins, long cirrus above the eyes and white spot below.
Some of the Rhinopias you can see in Alor have long, lacy filaments and are often misidentified as a Lacy. However, this cannot be. It has been proven that the Lacy Scorpionfish are only found in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, The Great Barrier Reef , New Caledonia and Japan…..
So if you think you have seen one in Indonesia then go back and check your photos. The aphanes has an intricate maze-like pattern whereas the frondosa has distinct, dark outlined spots and irregular markings.
Like all scorpionfish, the Rhinopias are bottom dwellers which remain stationary for long periods of time. They are ambush predators and strike quickly at the fish or crustaceans that make up their diet. If you are patient then you may be lucky enough to witness such strike…
…and the butterflyfish didn’t make it…
Please visit our Alor Gallery.