Serranus scriba, the Painted Comber, is a subtropical marine fish found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea. Confusingly, a synonym of this species is Perca marina, but that name (as Sebastes marinus) has incorrectly been used for a separate species, the rose fish.
The genus Serranus belongs to the family Serranidae (the family of groupers and sea basses), order Perciformes, class Actinopterygii, phylum Chordata and kingdom Animalia.
Serranus scriba grows to a length of 28 centimetres. This grouper has a squat body, a large head and a mouth very large in proportion to the body size. Jaws are filled with sharp teeth. The painted comber is orange to red in colour, with bluish to dark brown vertical stripes that are wider and darker towards the tail. The caudal fin is dark yellow to orange, the dorsal fins are yellow with orange dots and lines. The pelvic fins and pectoral fins are usually monochromatic light yellow. The head shows many reddish-brown lines that resemble Arabic writing (hence the Latin name of the species). On both sides of the abdomen there is a large, bright blue area.
The Painted Comber spends much of its time in rocky caves. It is usually solitary or in small groups. It comes out of hiding around dusk to feed on various crustaceans, fishes, and worms. Indeed, this fish tends to give away a well hidden octopus nest, since it lies in waiting outside the octopus nest to feed on the left-over bits of shellfish.
These fish are hermaphrodites and can fertilize themselves. Spawning is seasonal and controlled by the moon’s phase.
The photo of this Painted Comber was taken at a depth of 30m outside of the Blue Hole, a natural feature at Dwejra, not far from the famous Azure Window, on Gozo’s west coast.
Photo taken by Brian Azzopardi