|A bizarre creature with a nose like Pinocchios hovers over the sandy Caribbean seabed. With its warty skin, it looks more like a shorn sheep than a fish. This is the shortnose batfish, Ogcocephalus nasutus, a shy creature found in shallow waters easily accessible from Cubas Isle of Youth.|
There are about 60 batfish species, some living in diveable depths, others thriving on the edge of ocean abysses at 300m. This particular curiosity of nature, which grows to no more than a foot long and usually half that size, leads a secretive life in sand and mud and has adapted itself to get the best from its environment.
Its grotesque body is flat and broad, with a long, slender tail and a small mouth. Its gills are relatively small pores, located not behind the head but behind the arm-like pectoral fins. But what is that nose for
In frogfish (Antennariidae), the first dorsal spine is modified into a movable fishing lure. Ogcocephalidae have a similar lure in a depression between snout tip and mouth, though it is shorter and less manoeuvrable. When hungry, the batfish freezes on the seabed and moves this lure back and forth like a piston. When a small fish is tempted and approaches, the batfish opens its mouth and quickly sucks in the unsuspecting victim.
Sometimes batfish throw a sand blanket over themselves and remain motionless on the seabed, waiting until the fish has consumed its own prey of molluscs, worms or crabs before making its move. Batfish might not be cuties but they are cunning characters.
The fascinating lure of the shortnose batfish developed to compensate for its lack of speed, though the price it paid was in manoeuvrability. Unlike other fish, it is a bad swimmer. Instead of graceful movement through the water, when it tries to swim the impression it gives is of a pitiful thrashing about.
However, again like frogfish, it has developed strong extremities, with pectoral and pelvic fins that resemble hands and feet. Usually Ogcocephalus stalks around in a relaxed manner, yet from time to time it can be seen jumping like a rabbit, crawling like a toad or walking four-legged like a dog! And when its time for it to move on to new feeding grounds, it walks.
If threatened, this peculiar fish immediately flutters to the ground to seek shelter in the sand.
Finding the bizarre shortnose batfish is a highlight for divers and its awkwardness, clumsiness and weird beauty make it a desirable subject for photographers. But there is still much to learn about Ogcocephalus, including its mating habits- which remain a complete mystery.
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