What's so fascinating about a feathery lump of coral? Not a lot, says John Bantin, unless on closer inspection it turns out to be a wonderfully ugly and rarely seen frogfish
Frogfish are such masters of disguise that they're difficult to see, even when they are photographed and singled out against a black background. They are generally described as short, fat, lumpy and grotesque. Their pectoral fins have an elbow-like joint, which makes them appear to have stumpy legs and feet. There are a dozen known examples of the species and they all lead a similarly sedentary life. They spend their time waiting patiently while wiggling a fishing-rod-and-worm-like appendage enticingly above their mouth to lure their prey. A frogfish is capable of swallowing other fish whole, and its victims can be almost as large as the frogfish itself. These creatures are so well camouflaged by their fleshy or filamentous appendages that divers rarely see them, even though they occur in most tropical seas. My wife and I were diving the wreck of the Salem Express, at a reef near Safaga in Egypt's Red Sea, when we encountered two giant frogfish, each nearly 25cm long. We found the first one in the crow's nest of the now-horizontal main mast of the ferry. My wife was startled when she accidentally put her hand on it, but the frogfish remained composed. We returned excitedly to the boat. I had encountered frogfish before, but nothing of this size. With camera reloaded, we entered the water again and, to our amazement, found the second, equally large frogfish at the end of the mast, just a few metres from where we had seen the first one. I took a whole series of photographs, my underwater flash betraying my great interest in the subject. Soon the other divers from our boat came over to see what I'd found. As my wife and I ascended to our decompression stop, we could see them all gathering round - oblivious to the nearby frogfish - trying to figure out what I had been photographing so enthusiastically!