Long-spined Sea Scorpion

 Long-spined Sea Scorpion
  • Scientific name: Taurulus bubalis
  • Also know as: Sea Scorpion, Granny Fish, Bullhead, Lesser Bullhead, Clobberfish, Sculpin, Long-horned Sea Sculpin, Lucky Proach, ‘Terror of the Rockpools’
  • Size: Usually around 4 inches/10cm in length.
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: 283 grams
  • IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
  • Distribution: Found in inshore waters all around the UK and Ireland.
  • Feeds on: Ambush predator which feeds on prawns, small fish and any other sources of food which it can find.
  • Description: Small fish with a large head and tapering body. The mouth is very large in relation to body size. Four spines are present behind the bulbous eyes which are close together and located at the top of the head. The body is scaleless and can vary in colour, with the belly usually being pale and the rest of the body greenish to brown, although this can vary (especially in the breeding season).
  • Additional notes: There are two main species of sea scorpions found in UK water. This page is about the smaller species – the long-spined sea scorpion. For the larger species, the short-spined sea scorpion, click here.

The long-spined sea scorpion is a small species of fish which is commonly found in shallow, inshore waters around almost all of the British Isles. Despite its small size it is an extremely aggressive ambush predator which will attack and eat fish larger than itself. Like shark and ray species sea scorpions do not have a swim bladder, meaning they sink as soon as they stop swimming.

Habitat and Feeding

RS Long-spined Sea Scorpion with sandeel
A sea scorpion caught on a sandeel bait meant for a much larger species.

Long-spined sea scorpions are usually found in mixed to rough ground with weed cover. They are often found trapped in rockpools by the retreating tide where they will happily live and feed until they are freed when the tide comes back in. They are perfectly adapted to this environment as their colour allows them to blend in with rocks and seaweed, and a static long-spined sea scorpion can easily be mistaken for a rock or stone. This species works as an ambush predator and waits for prawns, small crabs and small fish to pass by. Once these creatures come within range the sea scorpion will dart out and attack, using its large mouth to scoop up its prey and drag them back to its hiding place,  although they will sometimes scour around the seabed for any food they can scavenge. The very large mouth of this species (relative to its size) allows it to consume fish and other species which are almost as large as the sea scorpion itself, and its digestive system allows it to digest its own body weight within a very short period of time. This means that anglers can sometimes catch this species on big baits meant for much larger species. This aggressive nature and willingness to take on species which are larger than itself has led to the long-spined sea scorpion being nicknamed ‘the Terror of the Rockpools.’

Commercial Importance and Human Interactions

Long-spined sea scorpions are not edible and have no commercial value. Their small size and inshore habitat mean that they are not generally caught by commercial vessels. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) class this species as one of Least Concern and it is thought to be abundant throughout its range. While the sea scorpion has spines it does not carry any venom, but the spines can still cause a minor injury to an unwary angler. Due to their aggressive feeding habits and unusual appearance this species is popular to keep in marine aquariums.

Species Confusion

There is another species of sea scorpion in British water – the short-spined sea scorpion (Myoxocephalus Scorpius). This species is generally larger than its short-spined relation, although the two are often confused. The main differences between the two species are listed below:

  • The long-spined sea scorpion is smaller, rarely exceeding 15-20cm in length and a few ounces in weight. The short-spined sea scorpion is larger, reaching up to 60cm in length and 3lbs in weight (although they are usually smaller than this).
  • As the name suggests the long-spined sea scorpion has longer spines (they are longer than the eye diameter) whereas the short-spined sea scorpion has smaller spines (shorter than eye diameter).
  • The long-spined sea scorpion has small white barbels (lappets) on either side of the mouth. These are not present in the short-spined sea scorpion.
  • If on the underside of the long-spined sea scorpion the gill membrane is attached to the throat. On the short-spined sea scorpion the gill membrane is not attached and the gills are visible from the underside of the fish.

Angling for Long-spined Sea Scorpion

LRF Sea Scorpion
A long-spined sea scorpion caught on LRF tackle.

Previously, the long-spined sea scorpion was only caught inadvertently by most anglers. Its large mouth and aggressive nature mean that this species is more than capable of wedging large baits (such as ragworm, mackerel strip and peeler crab) presented on fairly big hooks into its mouth, and many anglers targeting bass, cod or plaice can end up accidentally catching a long-spined sea scorpion. However, in the last few years, the rising popularity of LRF (Light Rock Fishing) means that many anglers equip themselves with very light gear, small hooks and jelly lures and set out to catch mini species, including the long-spined sea scorpion. Indeed, the willingness of this species to attack a jelly lure means that it is one of the most common species for LRF anglers to catch. Long-spined sea scorpions are not fussy and will attack almost all small jelly worms and similar type lures. Effective techniques to catch this species include dragging a lure across the bottom of a rockpool or jigging a lure in front of seaweed or crevice where long-spined sea scorpions may be hiding. The British record for this species was set in 1992 with a 283 gram (9oz 14dr) specimen caught in Portland, Dorset in 1983 by Mr G. Lockwood.