Swims like a drunken sailor. (© David Hall/seaphotos.com)
Once again, science makes my day. Researchers have discovered a wonderful new fish in shallow water off the Indonesian island of Ambon, much visited by great naturalists of the past including Alfred Russel Wallace. And this one just makes you want to keep looking and looking, even in the same places everybody else has looked before, because Mother Nature is such a relentless joker.
University of Washington scientist Ted Pietsch has dubbed the discovery Histiophryne psychedelica because, well, just look at that face. Or consider its swimming behavior, which also suggests that it has been dabbling in mind-altering drugs. It doesn’t so much swim as bounce off the bottom, using its fins to push off the seafloor and jetting itself forward by firing water from its tiny gill openings. Check out the QuickTime video at http://uwnews.org/article.asp?articleID=47496.
It hops along with so little control that, according to the press release, it looks as if it “should be cited for DUI.” Like other frogfish, it also uses its pectoral fins like feet to go stumping along the bottom.
Fortunately, psychedelica is covered with thick folds of skin to keep it from getting punctured as it bangs along the coral reef. It also has a flattened face with eyes directed forward, something Pietsch, with 40 years of experience studying and classifying fishes, has never seen before in frogfish. He speculates that the species may have binocular vision, overlapping in front, as it does in humans. Most fish, with eyes on either side of the head, don’t have vision that overlaps; instead they see different things with each eye.
Toby Fadirsyair, a guide in Ambon, and Buck and Fitrie Randolph, co-owners of Maluku Divers, first spotted the fish and alerted Pietsch. David Hall, a wildlife photographer and owner of seaphotos.com, speculates that the fish came by its crazy coloring by mimicking corals.
Here’s the citation: A BIZARRE NEW SPECIES OF FROGFISH OF THE GENUS HISTIOPHRYNE (LOPHIIFORMES: ANTENNARIIDAE) FROM AMBON AND BALI, INDONESIA Theodore W. Pietsch, Rachel J. Arnold, and David J. Hall Copeia, 2009(1):37−45, 18 February 2009