If you’re looking for one of the strangest fish in the ocean, the frogfish is your best bet.
Their leg-like fins, camouflaged skin, and constant “Oh no!” expressions make them a peculiar sight on the ocean floor. If you’re fortunate enough to see one in person, you’ll understand why they’re a favorite among scuba divers and underwater photographers. Discover what makes the frogfish so strange and wonderful by reading on.
What are frogfish?
Frogfish are any member of the family Antennariidae, which consists of approximately 50 species of anglerfish. The largest species is only 12 inches (30 centimeters) long and inhabits shallow tropical and subtropical ocean waters throughout the world. They utilize modified pectoral fins that resemble legs to “walk” along the ocean floor in search of prey.
Frogfish are masters of disguise, using various forms of camouflage to conceal themselves from predators and ambush prey. Some species have colors and textures similar to sponges. For instance, the Commerson’s frogfish (Antennarius commerson) can change its color to blend in with pink, red, yellow, or brown sponges and rocks, and even has skin with an irregular texture to match the rough surface of the reef.
The psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica) has yellow, brown, and white stripes resembling stony corals. In addition, the hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus) has long, flapping appendages that resemble algae or even a spiny urchin.
This camouflage is a form of aggressive mimicry, which is imitating another object to gain an advantage over your prey. This means that potential prey, such as small fish or crustaceans, can swim by the well-hidden frogfish without noticing it, allowing the frogfish to attack the prey from close range. Animals such as the alligator snapping turtle, which resembles decaying wood, and the ant-mimicking spider, which resembles an ant, also employ this strategy.
Frogfish have an additional trick up their sleeves (or fins?) for luring prey into becoming dinner. Frogfish have a modified fin called an illicium, which is a fishing rod for capturing prey. It can resemble a worm, shrimp, or even a tiny fish, which other fish and crustaceans find very appetizing! Once the prey has gotten close enough to realize that the “worm” is not a “worm”… It is likely too late. Deep-sea anglerfish, a relative of the frogfish, also utilizes this strategy (of Finding Nemo fame).