News / Species Spotlight / Leopard Searobin (Prionotus scitulus) (05/01/18)

Leopard Searobin (Prionotus scitulus)

Species Spotlight - Leopard Searobin (Prionotus scitulus)
Searobins are an intriguing group of fishes which seemingly combine the fanlike pectoral fins of a Flying Gurnard (Dactylopterus) with the bizarre fingerlike fin rays of a Sea Goblin (Inimicus) and the body of a Scorpionfish (Scorpaena). But, interestingly enough, none of these are especially close relatives.

Searobins belong to the family Triglidae, which boasts 9 genera and around 125 species scattered across the worlds tropical and temperate waters. In greater depths, the closely related Armored Searobins (Peristediidae) take over; these share a similar morphology but are covered in bony plates and possess a pair of bizarre forward projections on the head. In older classifications, these groups were considered to be unrelated members of the scorpionfish order, but more recent research has shown that these two groups are in fact each others closest relatives, comprising the newly recognized perciform suborder Triglioidei.

So, despite their very scorpionfish-like appearance, the Searobins are actually non-venomous and appear to be close relatives of the Sculpins and Greenlings. The superficially similar Flying Gurnards are now thought to belong to the syngnathiform order, which includes bottomfeeders like dragonets and goatfishes, as well as seahorses and pipefishes.

Prionotus is restricted to the Western Atlantic and Eastern Pacific and presently includes 31 species (including those formerly classified in Bellator). These fishes occupy a wide range of depths, but are generally found along the muddy bottoms of the continental slope. Here, they use their peculiarly modified pectoral fins to poke into the soft substrate in search of benthic invertebrates. The diet includes everything from amphipods to clams to squid to, believe it or not, box jellies! In captivity, most meaty foods will be eagerly accepted.

Of the many species found in the Atlantic, one of the most abundant and beautiful is the Leopard Searobin (P. scitulus). As the name suggests, this species is characterized by the reddish spots that cover its back and fins. Compared to others in this genus, P. scitulus actually has relatively small pectoral fins, which barely reach the anal fin when folded against the body. The mouth is also smaller than most, which helps to diminish the chances of this large fish (max size: 10 inches) feeding upon smaller tankmates.

Given the ultimate size of this fish and its need to crawl about on the bottom, a large aquarium with appropriate dimensions is called for. Tankmates should be chosen with care, so as not to be so small as to be preyed upon or overly aggressive. Inquisitive pufferfishes and triggerfishes may prove to be a poor choice, but many eels, groupers, scorpionfishes, larger wrasses, surgeonfishes, etc. will work fine.