Rhinopias frondosaNote the spotted, ornate colouration, white eye spot, and filamentous appendages.
Rhinopias — a genus of scorpionfish with a lot of flair — is an exotic species that’s prised by divers, who travel thousands of miles in hopes of encountering them.
Rhinopias are members of the scorpionfish family or Scorpaenidae, which now contains five species: Rhinopias eschmeyeri (paddle flap), aphanes (merlets), frondosa (weedy), xenops (bug eye) and argoliba (Japanese). While most scorpionfish can be found globally, the Rhinopias are very bio-geographically specific to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea, and more recently, Hawaii, and Okinawa, Japan. The diverse locations and small numbers of this amazing creature add to the mystique and difficulty of seeing them in nature, pushing them to the top of the Holy Grail list for divers, underwater photographers, and marine biologists.
Their bodies are laterally compressed with their eyes on the top of their heads. Their narrow bodies, tall dorsal spines and protruding-nose facial features seem a bit exaggerated but work well together. Skin tags or flaps above the eyes coupled with a false white eye spots below the eye are present in most Rhinopias and helps prevent their prey from seeing their calculating glare while hunting.
Their colouration and camouflage are anything but basic and can change dramatically within each species. Lines, spots, saddled colourations, or solid bright colours are all common amongst these uncommon fish. Dermal appendages are present in all five species and make the rhinos both interesting and flamboyant.
Like other scorpionfish, Rhinopias is a benthic fish that spends its entire lifecycle on the bottom. They can be found in depths ranging from just a few feet to 400 feet, according to the latest finds in Japan and Hawaii. The eschmeyeri species prefer sandy slopes with quick access to deeper water, whilst others can be seen on or near reef systems. Despite the vibrant colours, all of them blend extremely well with their surroundings and are nearly undetectable when hidden amongst soft corals, crinoids, or even out in the open.
The Rhinopias is a masterful, predatory fish that has developed some very unique behaviours in order to survive. Rhinopias slowly ambulates across the substrate in a comical yet effective manner. Rocking forwards and rolling back, then dragging itself with its claw-like pectoral appendage and then rocking forwards again. This clumsy little movement mimics injured fish or debris while luring an unsuspecting victim until it’s close enough to be gulped down using a gape strike assault. The Rhinopias are considered heavy feeders, becoming very active on or around tidal swings. The Rhinopias is the only fish known to shed its cuticle layer of its skin tissue in order to effectively rid itself of parasites.
Mike Bartick was born and raised in Southern California, not far from the ocean in Huntington Beach. After finding his first nudibranch on an Open Water checkout dive, he was immediately hooked on diving. Bartick, who splits his time between the Indo-Pacific and the Eastern Pacific as a freelance photographer, photojournalist, and field guide, shoots with a Nikon D300 and D300s, Sea and Sea housings, and YS-D1 and YS 250 pro strobes. To see more of his work, visit saltwaterphoto.com.