Jan 2015

The Kings of Camouflage

By Mike Waddington

When you ask many divers what they want to see on a dive the usual response would be turtles, sharks or rays. This is especially true of newly certified divers, or divers who are still in their training. The more you dive the more you begin to lose focus on the mega fauna and the more you begin to look at the small things hidden in the cracks. For me one of the most impressive fish families you will encounter on a coral reef is the Scorpionfish family. Although very difficult to find they are worth the search, as they are possibly one of the best examples of mimicry and camouflage on the planet.

Scorpionfish are best known for their incredible camouflage and their venomous spines. The family contains other well-known dangerous fish such as the Lionfish and the Stonefish. Most of the Scorpionfish family are small to medium in size, usually under 30cm. Although they can be incredibly difficult to spot, they are easy to identify, often looking like components of the reef itself. The Bearded Scorpionfish has a purplish appearance that matches coralline algae, and a ‘beard’ that looks like some turf algae. The Stonefish looks almost exactly like coral reef substrate, again with patterns that mimic turf algae. In general they are characterised by bony struts on the cheek bones, sharp spike looking spines over many parts of the body, and the pectoral fins are usually thick and well developed.

Scorpionfish are basically bottom dwellers, and all but a few lack swim bladders. The majority are passive predators of shrimps, crabs and small fishes. The Decoy Scorpionfish (Iracundes signifer) combines its camouflage with its unusually shaped dorsal fin which is shaped like a small fish. It uses this to lure in its prey before going for the kill. Lionfishes are primarily nocturnal feeders that roam large areas of the bottom searching for crabs and small fish. They can use their oversized pectoral fins to confuse their prey and block any attempted escapes.

As Scorpionfish are generally passive predators there is very little risk of accidentally getting stung by one. Usually stings are a result of carless behavior by divers and snorkelers. Usually most of the injuries happen because divers do not have sufficient buoyancy control and either ‘crash’ onto them, or place a hand on a part of the reef to stabilize themselves. Some snorkelers who may show little regard for the reef can accidentally stand on them when resting. As they are incredibly beautiful and often unusual looking fish they are often prized aquarium specimens, especially Lionfish. There are cases of collectors accidentally getting stung while tending to their aquariums.

The most dangerous of all the Scorpionfish is the Stonefish. There are several reports of stings which are accompanied by excruciating pain, and convulsive death within minutes. In fact the Stonefish has the most potent fish venom known to us. Lionfish venom is far less potent than that of the Stonefish, however a sting can render victims unconscious and several days of hospitalization. The active ingredient of the venom is a protein, which can be broken down by heat. Therefore the recommended treatment for a sting from any fish within the Scorpionfish family is to immediately immerse the affected are in very hot (not scalding) water, before going to emergency medical care for professional treatment. Although the Scorpionfish family can produce a painful, even fatal sting, there is no reason to worry unless you intend on swimming around poking things. There will probably be one on most tropical dive sites you visit, it is just a matter of looking for the kings of camouflage.

‘The Kings of Camouflage’ was written by Mike

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!


PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia