Rare scorpionfish with venomous spine, ability to change colour found in Gulf of Mannar
Scientists at the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) have found a rare species of scorpionfish (Sorpaenospsis neglecta) which can change its colour and carries stinging venomous spines. It is the first time that this species has been found in Indian waters.
The Kochi-based CMFRI said the fish was spotted along the Sethukarai coast in the Gulf of Mannar during an underwater exploration. Camouflaged in sea-grass meadows, the band-tail scorpionfish can change its colour and blend with its surroundings to escape predators and while hunting for prey, the premier marine research body said.
The fish is called ‘scorpionfish’ because its spines contain neurotoxic venom. “When the spines pierce an individual, the venom gets injected immediately and it can be extremely painful”, said Dr R Jeyabaskaran, a senior scientist who led the exploration, adding that consuming this fish can be fatal.
“During exploration, this species was first sighted as a coral skeleton. At first glance, its appearance was confusing as it wasn’t clear if it was a fish or fossilised coral skeleton covered with bivalve shells. But it started changing its colour the moment we disturbed it by touching a dead coral fragment. It was noticed that within four seconds, the skin of the fish changed from white to mottled black”, Dr Jeyabaskaran said.
He said when caught by hand using a zip-lock polyethylene bag, the fish flashed the pectoral fins and the inner side of these fins came in full view, exhibiting bright yellow colour with black band margin.
A nocturnal feeder, it lies motionless at the bottom of the sea and waits for its prey to come closer to it. It has the power to attack and suck its prey with lightning speed. Having a highly powerful sensory system, the fish can detect respiratory ventilation flows produced by crabs at a distance of 10 cm in the dark environment, Dr Jeyabaskaran said. Unlike other fishes, band-tail scorpionfish uses its lateral sensory system instead of eyes to hunt its prey.
The scorpionfish has been handed over to the National Marine Biodiversity Museum of the CMFRI for further studies.
The research was published in the latest issue of the journal Current Science, said CMFRI.