Leaf scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus), also called paperfish, are the most elegant of all the ambush predators. Not only are they dressed in classical colours, such as black, red, yellow and white, but they also show up in tints of pink, green, brown or ochre. All of them work with dark or light mottling to match their surroundings or perfect their elegant and timeless disguise of an ambush predator (Ambush predators: They got the look).
More to their look
They are amongst the smaller ones of the scorpionfishes, only up to 10 cm when fully grown. Their unusual shape, flattened from side to side and tall as the sail like dorsal fin, with 12 spines starting right behind the eyes, is lifted up most of the time lets them stand out. There is a darker, sometimes spotted line going across their eyes to break up the outline (see photo above). Their dark pupils have a rim with yellow spots which sometimes continue as stripes into an area around the eyes where all of them show a radiant pattern in various colours (see pictures above and below). Leaf scorpionfish have several small appendages to assist with blending in and sometimes even real algae or hydroids settle on their skin. The anal fin has an additional three spines and even if the venom of leafies is considerably weaker than the one of lionfish or stonefish, it should be avoided.
They like to move it, move it
Same as with other ambush predators, swimming is not their strong point. Instead, they use their large pelvic fins to wedge themselves into position (see photo below). Then they simply sit and wait until suitable prey, a small fish or crustacean, approaches. To look inconspicuous, leafies rock gently from side to side, pretending to be a dead leaf moved by the water. This camouflage is perfected by irregular brown to black (or white) blotches over their bodies. If they have to move, they tend to hop or walk on their pectoral fins. Once their prey is within striking range, it is sucked in by a sudden opening of the mouth.
Elegant and timeless style
Unlike other scorpionfishes their look is elegant and timeless, they don’t just change with the blink of an eye. Every 10 to 14 days leaf scorpionfishes moult and this way can change their colour step by step over a longer time period. Pieces of old skin stay attached to the body and assist in the overall camouflage. Interestingly, some leafies match the colours of their surroundings quite perfectly, while others a clearly more flamboyant and, colourwise, stand out quite a bit. This does not seem to be a problem for their hunting technique. We have observed leafies staying in the same spot for years and not feeling the need to adjust their colour to match their surroundings.
Where to meet them
Taenianotus t. is widespread from east African coast and the Red Sea to the tropical Indo-Pacific, north to the Galapagos Islands, the Ryukyu Islands, Hawaii, and the coast of New South Wales. This species can be found in tropical waters on coral reefs, from shallow water to a depth of 130 m.Wikipedia
The females produce eggs that are released into the water and then fertilized by a male. Afterwards they float near the surface until they hatch.
Species: T. triacanthus