Ask the WWM Crew
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The Lionfishes that hobbyists are familiar with are just the beginning of a vast assemblage of "Mail-cheeked fishes" that comprise the Order Scorpaeniformes... 25 families, about 166 genera, 1,271 species. There are " a bunch " of "scorpionfishes" to put it mildly. All have large heads, most with large eyes and mouths to match... for the most part sedentary to slow moving, stalking fishes... many are venomous... with hollow dorsal fin spines that can inject (with mechanical pressure) powerful proteinaceous toxin... These stings can hurt you mechanically and chemically, and must therefore be handled with care.
Our species of interest here sides far on the mild side of the scale in terms of danger... Unlike the common Pteroine Lions that do a good deal of stalking of prey, and at times present their hypodermic fin spines at aquarists, Taenionotus triacanthus prefers to "sit about" in disguise, waiting for a meal to happen by... About the most outgoing reaction one gets from them is yawning and gentle side to side motion... like, you guessed it, a leaf.
The Leaf Scorpionfish is monotypic... that is, it is the sole member of its genus... Of the largest subfamily (Scorpaeninae) of Rock and Scorpion fishes (Scorpaenidae)... This group of mail-cheeked fishes alone has some 15 genera and more than 150 species. Some notable species here include the Gorgeous genus Rhinopias, Ambon or Hairy Scorpionfish (Pteroidichthys amboinensis), and the largish Scorpionfishes of the genus Scorpaena.
Finding actual specimens of these species is the hard part of selection... It's never super-abundant in the wild, and not easily found to boot. Ones that do make their way into the trade are almost always "ready to go" in terms of their health and lack of damage from collection, holding and shipping. Happily this IS a very inactive species... that DOES virtually scoot around on its stocky pectoral fins... Such traits blend well with being "quiet" in small volumes, like holding tanks, fish bags... and not puncturing these last or breaking fin spines like their more "turkey" brethren.
Do the usual wait for a few days on newly-arrived specimens... Most that will die mysteriously do so within a night or two... If you're concerned re someone else buying a prospective specimen, do put down a deposit and have the store label the tank it is in for your reservation.
As with their larger kin, the Lionfishes, Leafs get along pretty much with everything that gets along with them... The usual exceptions include outright territorially aggressive species like many Triggerfishes, large and small-nippy Puffers, larger Wrasses... and small-enough-to fit in their mouths fish groups like Damsels, Grammas, Dottybacks and such. Also to be aware of are avoiding animals that will too-easily outcompete your Leaf for food... Once the item is within striking distance, this species can move/inhale prey lightning fast... but other fishes (e.g. Hawks) may well collect all offered food before it gets that far. We're talking peaceful, not too-frisky fish tankmates here, like Dart Gobies, Anthiines...
Can you have more than one? Yes... this species is often encountered in the wild in "pairs", sometimes with quite a few more individuals scattered about. There are some apparently agonistic/territorial Scorpaeniform fishes... in the wild and captivity; but this is not one of them. If you have room for perches, adequate filtration, more than one specimen can be maintained in a given system.
Concerning Invertebrates: For completeness sake I will mention that there is the occasional transgression with purposefully livestocked small shrimps and even Hermit Crabs being consumed... but as far as most sessile and motile invertebrates go, they are very safe with this Scorpaenid. In fact, you're encouraged to have an assortment of well-established corals (hard and/or soft), other Cnidarians that are getting along, any other Phylum of non-vertebrate animal, plus living macroalgae in with your Leaf. See the accompanying images here? This fish is found nestled amongst other living reef inhabitants... and can/will grow dermal appendages, change color to match what you provide... Make it diverse.
Oh, and yes, Taenionotus triacanthus does have/bear venomous spines... so do take care if/when you are netting this fish, to keep your hands away or something substantial in-between you and the net.
Folks seem to consider that if an animal is rather sedentary that it doesn't need much space to live... well. This is assuredly not the case, with even almost-permanently ensconced fish like the Leaf Scorpion requiring a good volume of water for psychological purposes as well as dilution of wastes, surface area for gas exchange... and room for your creative habitat designing! At a minimum, I would use nothing smaller than a 29 gallon tank for one specimen, and more than this three dimensions if you intend to keep much with it.
Water quality? I'd like to see the same sort
that you would apply and be diligent re maintaining... for a typical
reef system; lots of healthy, established live rock etc.. After all,
this is exactly where this species occurs. Though most folks think
they're providing a good deal of water circulation, a brief trip to
a natural reef surprises most all... Any given volume of water is
traded out per minute at what the majority of aquariums move per
hour... Don't be concerned re having too much current with
Leaffishes... if it's too brisk or uni-directional, this will show
in the animals behavior... Moving to a spot or spots where it feels
Initially you may well have to feed your new
Leaffish live food... gut-loaded (Cyclop-eeze and soaked in
vitamin/HUFA prep. like Selcon) ghost shrimp are great here, and
generally available. Over time frozen/defrosted foods will generally
become accepted with training (a "feeding stick"... wood or
plastic dowel...) For small specimens frozen Mysis are excellent here,
as are most any sea-origin meaty item that doesn't have much
shell. It is advised that you only feed about
once, maybe twice a week. You want your Leaf (actually all fishes) to
not be too plump in their belly-region, but not concave either.
Scorpaeniform fishes look rough and tough, but when it comes to chemical exposure they can be quite dainty. If possible, avoid exposure at high strength with copper compounds and metallic dyes like Malachite Green. For protozoan complaints other than Amyloodinium/Velvet (see below), I suggest formalin baths... in transition... Moving infested specimens to new settings. You'll want to monitor pH and ammonia... daily... See the bottle re the formalin... stock solutions are 37%... there are some guidelines for its use posted in books, on the Net... You want to do this few minute dip/bath with plenty of aeration present and with you in constant observation. You are in essence going to "burn" off the outside slime of the fish... and with it the encysted parasites. Moving the host fishes will leave the encysted, not-yet infective stages of parasites behind. Allowing systems to "go fallow" (sans hosts) for a month or more... perhaps with elevated temperature, lowered specific gravity... will expedite these resting stages die-off.
For Velvet, I endorse using Chloroquine diphosphate (an antimalarial medicine) at 5-10 mg/L for 10 days. Like copper, this compound is toxic to invertebrates and algae, and unlike copper, quite expensive.
Regarding hyposalinity treatments, garlic,
"reef-safe" remedies... I am not a fan of such... And after
responding to many situations over decades time with these fishes, can
state categorically that although Scorpaeniforms are quite euryhaline,
they're not easily cured of pathogenic disease through reduced
salinity... that garlic (Allium sativum) is best used on pastas, and
that reef-safe remedies that are efficacious and non-toxic don't
Can't afford a Rhinopias (Me neither), don't have room for a full-sized Lionfish species? Looking for something really neat to spiff up your possibly small reef? Though rarely seen in the trade, this little Scorpaenid is worth looking for. It is highly interesting, colorful, easy-going... hardy to aquarium conditions, and always a conversation item.
Fleetham, David. 1995. Hawaiian Scorpionfish... the six most often seen by divers. Discover Diving, Oct. 95.
Michael, Scott W. 1996. Scorpionfishes- ambushers of the reef. AFM 5/96.
Michael, Scott W. 1996. Scorpionfishes- many to choose from. AFM 6/96.
Michael, Scott W. 2002. Scorpionfishes: Bizarre but beautiful. AFM 5/02.