„Take a Minute to Relax“ and observe another weird and wonderful creature hiding in the coral reefs: Leaf scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus). The leaf scorpionfish, also called paperfish, is definitely the most elegant of all the ambush predators. Ambush predators, also called sit-and-wait predators, are carnivorous animals that get to their meals by stealth or by strategy rather than by speed or by strength.
Ambush predators sit and wait for prey, often from a concealed position and, in the case of our marine candidate here, concealing themselves by different methods of camouflage. Blending in has created some remarkable features, giving these creatures quite unique looks. As one would expect from animals specialised to suck their prey in, their heads and in particular their mouths are quite large in comparison to their overall body size. By opening their mouth quickly, they create a sucking motion strong enough to catch and swallow their prey in one bite.
So much on ambush predators in general, back to our little Leaf scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus) in particular. It comes in many colour variations from black, red, yellow and white to pink, green, brown or ochre. It always works with dark or light mottling to match their surroundings or simply perfect their elegant and timeless disguise of an ambush predator.
Take a minute to relax: Leaf scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus)
Taenianotus triacanthus is amongst the smaller ones of the scorpionfishes, only up to 10 cm when fully grown. Its unusual shape lets it stand out: flattened body 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. As you can see, there is a darker line going across its eyes to break up the outline. Sometimes this line is more spotted. Its dark pupils have a rim with yellow spots which continues as stripes into an area around the eyes where all leaf scorpionfish show a radiant pattern in various colours.
Taenianotus triacanthus has several small appendages to assist with blending in and sometimes even real algae or hydroids settle on its skin. The anal fin has an additional three spines and even though the venom of leafies is considerably weaker than the one of lionfish or stonefish, it should be avoided.
More details on Leaf scorpionfish: Taenianotus triacanthus
Same as with other ambush predators, swimming is not its strong point. Instead, leaf scorpionfish use their large pelvic fins to wedge themselves into position. 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.
Unlike other scorpionfishes their look is elegant and timeless, they can’t just change with the blink of an eye. Every 10 to 14 days leaf scorpionfish moults and this way can change its 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.
All around the world
Taenianotus triacanthus is widespread around the world. You can meet leafies from the 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. They can be found anywhere in tropical waters on coral reefs, from shallow water to a depth of 130 m. However, in Wakatobi where this footage was taken they preferred to hang out in between 2 and 7 metres.
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.
Scientific classification / taxonomy
Species: T. triacanthus
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