You do not want to step on this foot-long fish here in Hawai‘i, as it could send you to the hospital. What is so amazing is that very few people get stung by the devil scorpion-fish even though I have seen people step right next to one sitting camouflaged right on top of the reef.
This fish is almost impossible to see, and I spend many hours in our Coral Reef Kids Camp for Reef Guardians Hawai‘i teaching the students how to spot this creature that looks like a rock. The fish has a very large head and mouth, and it sits motionless for hours just waiting for a small fish to swim by, then it gulps down the fish so fast it looks like it just disappeared into the rocky lava reef.
The only time you can actually see nohu is when it is swimming, which is very rare. Its pectoral fins are bright orange, and many times I have had people tell me they saw what looked like a brown rock swimming by with glowing orange fins. This fish is so common on our shallow-water Hawaiian reefs that I can usually find one on every one of our snorkels in super-shallow water, and that is why we teach our students to never touch the reef or corals because you could easily grab onto this fish and get a nasty sting that really hurts.
Nohu has a poisonous spine on its dorsal fin that carries a powerful hemotoxin that hurts similar to a rattlesnake or black-widow bite. I know because I have been stung or bit by all three of these creatures in Hawai‘i and California.
Most people do not have any lasting effects from a scorpion-fish sting but the pain can last for many hours. I know because one day I was doing an underwater movie of a sea turtle and laid flat on the sandy bottom to film the turtle and then laid right on top of a devil scorpion-fish. It hurt like heck for many hours, so now I always wear a wetsuit and gloves if I am going out shooting video.
You can see nohu in action in the movie “The World’s Guide To Hawaiian Reef Fish” at underwater2web.com, and also have your kids see the devil scorpion-fish in person in our Coral Reef Kids Camp with our nonprofit Reef Guardians Hawai‘i.
Reef Guardians Hawai‘i is a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawai‘i go toreefguardianshawaii.org.
Terry Lilley, a marine biologist, lives in Hanalei. His websites include underwater-2web.com and gofundme.com/5urrm4zw.