Short-spined Sea Scorpion

Short-spined Sea Scorpion

  • Scientific name: Myoxocephalus scorpius
  • Also know as: Bull Rout, Bullhead, Greater Bullhead, Sculpin, Short-horn Sea Sculpin, Father Lasher, Rock Sculpin, Clobberhead, Pig Fish, Devilfish
  • Size: Generally under 1ft in length, but can reach 2ft length and 3lbs
  • UK minimum size: 8ins / 20cm
  • UK shore caught record: 2lb 7oz
  • IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated)
  • Distribution: Common around all of the British Isles and northern European waters. Also found along the eastern coast of the US and Canada.
  • Feeds on: Anything it can find including fish the same size as itself.
  • Description: Squat fish with very large head and mouth relative to its body size. Rest of the scaleless body is thin and tapering. Two spiky dorsal fins with only a very small gap between them. Spines on gill covers and head and small spikes running down the lateral line. Usually mottled brown/green in colour with red/orange belly, but colour can vary greatly between fish, with some specimens being very brightly coloured (especially during the breeding season).
  • Additional notes: This species is often confused with its smaller and more common relative, the long-spined sea scorpion.

The short-spined sea scorpion is a species of fish that has a wide distribution around the British Isles. It lives in relatively deep water which means it is a somewhat uncommon species for shore anglers to catch (although its smaller and more common relative, the long-spined sea scorpion is caught much more often by anglers).

The short-spined sea scorpion can exceptionally grow to around three pounds in weight, although the average size of this species is less than a third of this. They can be found across rocky and mixed seabeds, usually at depths down to around one hundred metres, although it has been found deeper than this on rare occasions. They are aggressive feeders which will launch ambush attacks on other fish (which can be almost as large as the sea scorpion itself) and they will also scavenge for food on the seabed. The spines on the short-spined sea scorpion do not carry any venom, although they can cause a puncture wound to anglers who mishandle this species. Like shark, ray and tuna species the short-spined sea scorpion has no swim bladder and sinks as soon as it stops swimming.

Short Spined Sea Scorpion
A short-spined sea scorpion in its natural environment.

The rarity of short-spined sea scorpions means that anglers do not target this species specifically, but they can be caught inadvertently, usually by anglers using worm, fish or crab baits for cod, bass or flatfish. The UK record for this species currently stands at 2lb 7oz and was caught by B. G. Logan in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside in 1982.

The short-spined sea scorpion is often confused with its smaller cousin, the long-spined sea scorpion (Taurulus bubalis). The key differences between the two species are:

  • 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. In the short-spined sea scorpion the gill membrane is not attached and the gills are visible from the underside of the fish.

Commercial Value

Short-spined sea scorpions are not generally consumed by humans, with only Nordic countries having any demand for this species (and even in these countries the number of sea scorpions eaten is minimal). For this reason short-spined sea scorpions are not targeted by commercial vessels and any which are caught are likely to be discarded overboard as bycatch, although in some cases they may be retained to be turned into fishmeal.