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Psychedelic Fish Bounces Like a Ball


© David Hall/seaphotos.com

This newly discovered species of frogfish doesn’t so much swim as hop, bouncing like a ball along the seafloor, scientists said this week.

“Each time they strike the seafloor they use their fins to push off and they expel water from tiny gill openings on their sides to jettison themselves forward. With tails curled tightly to one side — which surely limits their ability to steer — they look like inflated rubber balls bouncing hither and thither,” said a University of Washington news release.

The frogfish, a type of anglerfish, has been named Psychedelica, “the perfect name for a fish that is a wild swirl of tan and peach zebra stripes and behaves in ways contrary to its brethren, including bouncing like a ball along the seafloor,” says the University of Washington’s Ted Pietsch, who is the first to describe the new species in the scientific literature and thus the one to select the name.

“Psychedelica is perhaps even more apt given the cockamamie way the fish swim, some with so little control they look intoxicated and should be cited for DUI,” Pietsch says.

See a QuickTime video of a juvenile hopping along.

While other anglerfish and similar species are known to jettison themselves up off the bottom before they begin swimming, none have been observed hopping. It’s just one of the behaviors of H. psychedelica never observed in any other fish, says Pietsch, UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences and curator of fishes at the UW Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.


© David Hall/seaphotos.com

He’s the lead author of a paper about the new species that’s now online at Copeia, the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. His work is funded by the National Science Foundation.

It was little more than a year ago that the fish with rare, forward-facing eyes like humans and a secretive nature was the subject of worldwide news coverage after having been observed in the busy harbor of Ambon Island, Indonesia, the UW release said.

An adult fish was observed in January 2008 by Toby Fadirsyair, a guide, and Buck and Fitrie Randolph, two of the co-owners of Maluku Divers, which is based in Ambon. They and co-owners Andy and Kerry Shorten eventually found Pietsch to help them identify the fish. Since the first sighting divers have observed a number of adults and juveniles, now that they know what to look for.

Adults of Histiophryne psychedelica, the new scientific name of the fish, are fist-sized with gelatinous bodies covered with thick folds of skin that protect them from sharp-edged corals as they haunt tiny nooks and crannies of the harbor reef, UW said. “Fins on either side of their bodies have, as with other frogfish, evolved to be leg-like, and members of H. psychedelica actually prefer crawling to swimming.”

 See a QuickTime video of them crawling.


© David Hall/seaphotos.com

The species has a flattened face with eyes directed forward. It’s something Pietsch, with 40 years of experience studying and classifying fishes, has never seen before in frogfish, UW says. “It causes him to speculate that the species may have binocular vision, that is, vision that overlaps in front, like it does in humans. Most fish, with eyes on either side of their head, don’t have vision that overlaps; instead they see different things with each eye.”

Instead of all that showiness, members of H. psychedelica are shy and secretive, probably one of the reasons they weren’t previously spotted, the release explained. “When a member of H. psychedelica is uncovered by divers it usually seeks a new place to hide within 10 or 15 minutes.”

And while other anglerfish change their coloring depending on the environment, the new species appears to maintain its wild striping no matter the surroundings.

The coloring led co-author David Hall, a wildlife photographer and owner of seaphotos.com, to speculate that the fish is mimicking corals. Indeed, Hall produced photos for the new scientific paper showing corals the animals may be mimicking, UW said.

The other co-author, Rachel Arnold, who is a UW master’s student in aquatic and fishery sciences, did the DNA work on the new species. Arnold, who dove in Ambon Harbor last year, said the striping of each fish is distinctive, “like a fingerprint of patterning on their body so from whatever angle you look, you can tell individuals apart.”

Watch more QuickTime segments.


The leg-like pectoral fins used for walking are commonly found in anglerfish which prefer crawling to swimming. More than a dozen individual fish have been seen in Ambon Harbor, Indonesia, since divers with Maluku Divers first spotted one of the fish in January 2008. The fish have been found in 15 to 25 feet of water near a commercial jetty in the busy harbor.

© David Hall/seaphotos.com