Eastern Red Scorpionfish, Scorpaena jacksoniensis Steindachner 1866

Other Names: Billy Bougain, Cardinal Scorpionfish, Coral Cod, Coral Perch, Eastern Red Scorpioncod, Fire Cod, Northern Scorpionfish, Ocean Perch, Prickly Heat, Red Rock Cod, Red Rockcod, Red Rock-cod, Red Scorpion-cod

An Eastern Red Scorpionfish, Scorpaena jacksoniensis, at North Head, Sydney Harbour, New South Wales, 18 March 2016. Source: John Turnbull / Flickr. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


Although named the Eastern Red Scorpionfish, this common species is variable in colour, ranging from bright red to a pale greyish-brown, with darker and lighter blotches and mottling. Juveniles may have a white to purplish blotch across the back of their head. The dorsal-fin spines have a venom gland at the base, and a sting from this species may be excruciatingly painful.

Video of an Eastern Red Scorpionfish

Until recently, this species was called Scorpaena cardinalis, a species that was described from New Zealand. Motomura et al. (2011) showed that S. cardinalis is only found around islands in the Tasman Sea (including Lord Howe and Norfolk islands) and in New Zealand, and does not occur in the waters of mainland Australia.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Scorpaena jacksoniensis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 21 Jul 2018, http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3652

Eastern Red Scorpionfish, Scorpaena jacksoniensis Steindachner 1866

More Info


Endemic to temperate waters of south-eastern Australia from the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef (Queensland) (~23ºS) to eastern Victoria. The Eastern Red Scorpionfish commonly lives in habitats ranging from shallow estuaries to deeper offshore reefs in depths of 1–73 m. It is common on coastal reefs in New South Wales.

The Victorian records are based on two specimens collected respectively in "Victoria" in 1890 and in "Western Port" in 1930; otherwise the species is only known south to Jervis Bay (New South Wales).


Meristic features: Dorsal fin spines/rays XII, 9; Pectoral fin rays 16-18; Gill rakers 4-6 + 10-13 = 14-19; Lateral line scales (pored) 22-24.

Most scorpionfishes are ambush predators and skin flaps and their colour pattern provide excellent camouflage. 


To at least 40 cm.


The Eastern Red Scorpionfish is an well-camouflaged ambush predator. It lies motionless on the bottom, moving only when disturbed, and waiting for unwary fishes and crustaceans to come within striking distance of its large mouth. Prey items are swallowed whole.


The sexes are separate and fertilisation is external. Stewart & Hughes (2010) found that the species breeds during summer and autumn. Females produce hollow, bilobed gelatinous egg masses that provide protection and floatation for the eggs and developing embryos.

Eastern Red Scorpionfish are slow-growing, with individuals reaching 22 cm after 5 years and 26 cm after 10 years. The oldest fish sampled was estimated to be 33 years old. See Stewart & Hughes (2010) for further information on age, growth and reproduction.


Off minor commercial and recreational importance. The species is taken by commercial line fishers and offshore recreational fishers (Steffe et al.1996). The flesh is white and considered excellent eating.


  • EPBC Act 1999 : Not listed
  • IUCN Red List : Not listed
  • Stewart & Hughes (2010) suggest that the slow growth rate, substantial longevity, variable recruitment patterns and a highly specialised reproductive strategy may make this species vulnerable to over-exploitation.


    Motomura et al. (2011) revised the group and determined that Scorpaena jacksoniensis is a valid species, and is what had previously been referred to as Scorpaena cardinalis in eastern Australia. Scorpaena cardinalis is found at Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, northern New Zealand and the Kermadec Islands.

    Similar Species

    Differs from Scorpaena papillosa in usually having a bright red body (vs reddish-brown, to brown or blackish), nine dorsal-fin spines (vs 12), and in growing to a larger size (40 cm vs 20 cm in S. papillosa).


    The species is named after Port Jackson, the type locality.

    Species Citation

    Scorpaena jacksoniensis Steindachner 1866, Anzeiger der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftlichen Classe 3(7): 50. Type locality: Port Jackson, NSW.


    Dianne J. Bray

    Eastern Red Scorpionfish, Scorpaena jacksoniensis Steindachner 1866


    Coleman, N. 1980. Australian Sea Fishes South of 30ºS. Lane Cove, NSW : Doubleday Australia Pty Ltd 309 pp.

    Edmonds, C. 1978. Dangerous Marine Animals of the Indo-Pacific Region, (Diving Centre Monograph on identification first aid and medical treatment). Wedneil Publications. 235 pp.

    Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea fishes of southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Swainston Publishing. Perth. 180 pp.

    Johnson, J.W. 1999. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 43(2): 709-762.

    Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia. Crawford House Press. 437 pp.

    Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. 433 pp.

    Motomura, H., C.D. Struthers, M.A. McGrouther & A.L. Stewart. 2011. Validity of Scorpaena jacksoniensis and a redescription of S. cardinalis, a senior synonym of S. cookii (Scorpaeniformes: Scorpaenidae). Ichthyological Research 58: 315–332, figs 1-11

    Poss, S.G. 1999. Families Scorpaenidae, Caracanthidae, Aploactinidae. pp. 2291-2358 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 4 2069-2790 pp.

    Steindachner, F. 1866. Über die Fische von Port Jackson in Australien. Anzeiger der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Klasse, Wien 3(7): 50-55.

    Stewart, J. & J.M. Hughes 2010. Life-history traits of the southern hemisphere eastern red scorpionfish, (Scorpaenidae: Scorpaeninae). Marine & Freshwater Research 61: 1290–1297. PDF

    Yearsley, G.K., Last, P.R. & Ward, R.D. (eds) 1999. Australian Seafood Handbook. Hobart : CSIRO Marine Research 460 pp.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37287066

    Danger:Venomous spines

    Depth:1-73 metres

    Fishing:Commercial, recreational fish

    Habitat:Reef associated

    Max Size:40 cm SL


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