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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Celebrating Psychedelica: Live on The Leonard Lopate Show

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 7, 2017

Swims like a drunken sailor. (© David Hall/

I was a guest this afternoon on “The Leonard Lopate Show” on WNYC in New York, talking about species discovery.  The interview runs about 13 minutes and listening to it is definitely better than a sharp stick in the eye. (A courageous listener called in to tell one of the other guests that he didn’t like the sound of her voice. Thank goodness, I didn’t have a call-in segment.)

At one point, I talked about a favorite new species from 2009 named psychedelica. Here’s the background, from my previous post on the discovery:

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.

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, 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



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