Leaf Scorpionfish, Taenianotus Triacanthus, are the sole member of their genus. They are fascinating creatures, being almost perfectly camouflaged to their coral reef habitats. They can be kept in the home aquarium, although they aren’t that common. Much more commonly seen members of the Scorpaenidae family seen in the aquarium trade are the lionfish. The Ambon Scorpionfish is also a member of this family. However we think that Leaf Scorpionfish need some more love!
In this care guide, we will run through everything you need to know about keeping the Leaf Scorpionfish in the home reef aquarium.
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Quick Leaf Scorpionfish Care Sheet
|Leaf Scorpionfish Summary|
|Minimum Tank Size||30 gallons (per one fish)|
|Size||Up to 4 inches|
|Temperature||23℃ – 27℃ (73℉ – 81℉)|
|Specific Gravity||1.020 – 1.025|
|pH Range||8.1 – 8.4|
The Leaf Scorpionfish, scientifically known as Taenianotus Triacanthus, are a saltwater species found in various depths of the Indo-Pacific, from 1-134 meters below the surface. They are found in various colors from brown to bright pink, they can grow up to 4 inches long and have flat compressed bodies with a large mouth and head. Like all Scorpaenidae, leaf scorpionfish have venomous spines, however the venom is not as strong as the venom in other fish such as the lionfish and stonefish. Their sting is said to feel like a nettle or insect sting.
Leaf scorpionfish have a large dorsal fin that sits high from their body, their pectoral fins support their bodies and they sometimes even use them to walk over the substrate at the bottom. The leaf scorpionfish sheds its skin twice a month, which always starts from the head and works its way around the body.
A leaf scorpionfish has the ability to rock its body back and forth through the water to appear as a leaf moving in the current, this allows them to blend into their surroundings and become less noticeable to predators. Leaf scorpionfish can also change their color slightly which helps them to blend in even more; some species have textured patches along their body which replicate the coral and algae in the wild.
As stated previously, leaf scorpionfish are found in various depths of the Indo-Pacific, from East Africa to southern Japan, and even as south as Australia. Leaf scorpionfish venture into much deeper depths than other reef fish, their depth ranges from 1-134 meters below the surface.
These unusual looking fish are not a migratory species, in the wild they are found inhabiting reefs, reef flats, outer reef slopes and current-swept channels; where they hide amongst algae and seagrass, occasionally venturing out to find food.
In captivity, leaf scorpionfish are known to display similar behaviors as seen in the wild. Leaf scorpion fish are named after their unique approach to catching their prey, as well as helping them to hide from predators. By rocking their body and moving their dorsal fin and tail to replicate a swaying leaf, they are able to patiently wait in camouflage until the prey is close enough to be snatched and eaten.
Other members of the Scorpaenidae family also use this technique, however without the leaf method that the leaf scorpionfish has, other fish have to wait in dark hidden places in order to ambush their prey; whereas the leaf scorpionfish can blend in and catch their prey in plain sight. Leaf scorpionfish don’t usually consume prey that are larger than themselves, however they do take their time to size up their prey before ambushing them, to make sure they are the right size to fit in their mouth.
In both the wild and in captivity, the leaf scorpionfish show signs of molting up to twice a month by not showing much interest in food. You can also tell when this fish is shedding its skin as it molts off in transparent clumps, starting with the head. This shedding should be removed from the aquarium once it is spotted. After the fish has shed its skin, their color will appear brighter and they will begin to show an interest in their food.
Leaf scorpionfish are carnivores, in the wild they will mainly feed on small fish and crustaceans, with their unique trapping method. They do not show an interest in larger prey, and usually stick to eating prey that is much smaller than them. In captivity, they need to be fed live or frozen foods. Live food is a great way to get them comfortable in their environment if they are new to the aquarium; this can include grass shrimp, small fish, larvae and crabs. They have quite small mouths, so only feed them small fish or crabs.
Frozen foods can also be offered to a leaf scorpionfish, however they will not take any interest in them if they have not yet been introduced to feeding. Once they are comfortable with consuming the live food, you can then move on to providing frozen foods if that is what you prefer. This can take time and training for a leaf scorpionfish to become used to dead or frozen food, as it is much less appealing for them.
Frozen foods can include Brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, krill, fish or mussels. These can be offered using tongs to present the food near their face where they can see it, throwing the frozen food in will often sink and they most likely won’t be interested.
It is important not to overfeed these fish, they do consume more food in the wild than they do in captivity. Feeding them once a day will be enough, provided that they are given meaty foods enriched with nutrients.
Aquarium set up
Leaf scorpionfish make a great unique fish to keep in an aquarium, their bright colors and unusual shape create a wonderful attraction in your home, provided you give them the correct care. When setting up an aquarium for a leaf scorpionfish, it is beneficial to add live corals and rock, this replicates their natural environment and is the best aquarium set up to put your leaf scorpionfish in. Leaf scorpionfish are reef safe fish that will not harm the corals in any way, however you will have to make sure that they are not housed with any small fish or invertebrates that are usually put in a coral reef aquarium.
As leaf scorpionfish are a saltwater species, they need to be housed in a saltwater aquarium. The process to setting this up is similar to setting up a freshwater aquarium, but with a few additional steps. Maintaining a saltwater coral aquarium can be a difficult task, one that might be overwhelming for a beginner fish owner, so we do suggest to do plenty of research and make sure that you are confident in housing live coral before adding your aquarium fish, if you are new to the industry and want to own a saltwater species. When adding water to the tank, ensure you are using marine safe salt to add into the water as you go, and using the correct amount per gallon of water.
Before setting up a saltwater aquarium, it is important to plan ahead. Before you buy your fish and set up the tank, make sure you know exactly what coral you are going to add, and what species of fish will be living there, also ensure you know what temperature and water parameters the coral needs, and if they match the parameters that the fish require. A good filtration system and protein skimmer are essential to ensure clean water, as are regular water changes. The Python water changer can make water changes a lt quicker while also vacuuming the substrate.
Leaf scorpionfish work well in peaceful community tanks that house peaceful fish, they can be housed alone or in groups of 2-3. For one leaf scorpionfish, we recommend not putting them in a tank less than 30 gallons, and to add 30 gallons per extra leaf scorpionfish that you put into the tank. The size of the tank also depends on how many other fish are living with the leaf scorpionfish.
Coral will usually create natural hiding spaces for fish to go to, but if this does not occur, it is important to add hiding spots for your leaf scorpionfish. In the wild, they will squeeze themselves into small spaces to hide, this needs to be provided in captivity in order to make them feel safe and secure. Natural hiding spots can include piled up rocks or dense live seaweed, artificial hides can be added if the natural alternative isn’t enough.
When cleaning and maintaining the aquarium, it is important to be aware of their venomous spines and move slowly around the aquarium to prevent stress. Using a long cleaning tool to remove debris from the bottom of the aquarium can be a good option to avoid putting your hands near their spines. Here are some examples of cleaning equipment that can be beneficial when dealing with a leaf scorpionfish:
Leaf Scorpionfish Tank Mates
Leaf scorpionfish are compatible with peaceful community fish that are around the same size as them, any fish that is small enough to fit in their mouth will become food.
Avoid small fish such as guppies, mollies, and tetras as they will be seen as food. As reef coral aquariums usually house invertebrates such as shrimp, it is important to avoid buying these small species as it will not take long for a leaf scorpionfish to eat them.
Aggressive fish should also be avoided, such as Butterflyfish.
In terms of fish that can be housed with leaf scorpionfish, we recommend lionfish or bottom dwellers such as eels. Leaf scorpionfish also work well in a one species only tank, as long as they are in a small group.
Despite their venomous spines, leaf scorpionfish make great display fish for a large saltwater aquarium. Alongside a beautiful display of live coral or rock, they always attract attention. Their unique behaviors and bright colors make them exciting to watch, provided that you give them the space, care and food that they require. These fish are generally more suited to experienced fish owners, however they can make great additions for beginners after enough research.
Featured Image Credit: Chika Watanabe (Flickr)