Grandfather Hapuku / New Zealand Scorpion Fish

Scorpion fish located at the middle stacker of the HMSNZ Canterbury Wreck – Photo by Doyle Larsson

The scorpion fish (Scorpaena cardinalis), also known as the eastern red scorpionfish, grandfather hapuku or New Zealand red rock cod are found in temperate waters and are distributed around Northern New Zealand, the Tasman Sea, and the Kermadec Islands. 

Scorpion fish are vertebrates which can grow up to 45cm in length and live for 10-15 years. During mating season, the female scorpion fish releases between 2,000 and 15,000 eggs which are then fertilised by the male fish and hatch within just 2 days. There are more than 200 species of scorpion fish found around the world. They can be found in healthy reef systems around New Zealand and are often spotted on trips to the Poor Knights and on the HMNZ Canterbury wreck. 

Scorpion fish at middle stack on the HMSNZ Canterbury Wreck – Photo by Doyle Larsson

Scorpion fish are masters of disguise and have cryptic colouration. This is an advantage for predatory fishes that often lie motionless on the bottom. They also have skin flaps on their heads which helps to further disguise the shape of the fish, allowing them to blend in with either the corals or the rocky areas in which they dwell. They are very easy to miss when out on a dive and it’s always a real treat once spotted.

Scorpion fish are nocturnal ambush predators with a big mouth. It often lies motionless on the bottom waiting for passing prey of small fishes and invertebrates. The species swallows its prey whole, so within reason, the bigger the mouth, the larger the prey item that can be consumed.

Scorpion fish – Video by Patrick Burke

Scorpion fish are calm creatures and do not often attack. If they feel threatened however, in order to defend themselves, they will stick out their dorsal spines which are toxic. A sting from this fish can be excruciatingly painful, and last for half a day. The poison is denatured by heat so immersing the affected area in very hot water is the best first aid before consulting a doctor.

Written by: Claire Hardman

PADI MSDT Instructor

Project Aware, Project Aware Fish Identification, Project Aware Coral Identification, Project Aware Shark Conservation, Project Aware Dive Against Debris, Scorpion Fish, New Zealand Diving, New Zealand Scuba, Academy of Diving, Auckland Scuba, Marine Life, University study