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The Frogfish – Ugly but loveable! - Dive Timor Lorosae

The Frogfish – Ugly but loveable!

The Frogfish – Ugly but loveable!

When I was first shown a frogfish, I had to look three times to realise what I was seeing. Then my thoughts were ‘what a weird looking fish’. It was like when god was moulding all the animals out of plasticine, he squelched it a bit and then forgot about it. Frogfish are ugly, misshapen and very awkward, but as divers, we love seeing them.

Frogfish where?

Tiny orange frogfish Timor LesteAs scuba diving guides it’s great to find a frogfish as they don’t usually move very far or very fast so you can often find them again in the same location. The problem is they are masters of disguise and can blend in amazingly with their background. They also have the ability to change their colour in a matter of hours, so the pink frogfish you saw on the morning dive, may orange by the time you try and find it again in the afternoon!

Their unusual shape, colour, and skin textures disguise them in their environment. Some resemble stones or coral, while others imitate sponges or sea squirts. I’ve even seen a giant frogfish that was green and pink with silver nodules. I think it was just being a princess, because I’ve never seen a coral or sponge like that.

They are ambush predators

white frogfish Timor LesteRather than using their amazing camouflage abilities for defence, frogfish mostly use it to attract prey. Their first dorsal fin has evolved into a type of fishing rod (illicium) and a bait (esca).

So while they hide their bodies against their background, they extend this rod and wiggle the bait around mimicking a small fish, luring their prey to close enough to strike extremely rapidly, in as little as 6 milliseconds. Hence the word ‘ambush’.

If their lure is eaten or damaged they have the ability to regenerate it! Cool huh!
Rather than using their amazing camouflage abilities for defence, frogfish mostly use it to attract prey. Their first dorsal fin has evolved into a type of fishing rod (illicium) and a bait (esca).

So while they hide their bodies against their background, they extend this rod and wiggle the bait around mimicking a small fish, luring their prey to close enough to strike extremely rapidly, in as little as 6 milliseconds. Hence the word ‘ambush’.

If their lure is eaten or damaged they have the ability to regenerate it! Cool huh!

With huge mouths

Roda reef frogfish by Jose Cortez

Jose Cortez

There are around 50 species of frogfish which belong to the family Antennariidae often known as Anglerfish. They are carnivores, eating fish, crustaceans and even other frogfish.

A frogfish’s mouth can expand to 12 times its resting size. This allows them to ingest something twice their own size.

However as they don’t have teeth they have to swallow the prey whole and rely on their digestive juices to break down their lunch. Puts a new meaning to biting off more than you can chew!

And jet packs

As frogfish don’t have a swim bladder to give them buoyancy, they cant swim. They use their modified pectoral fins to walk or lollop, across the seafloor in a very comical fashion.

But they have an ace up their sleeve. If they feel threatened and they need to move quickly they use jet propulsion by sucking in water and forcing it through their back facing gills.

frogfish black east timor divingFrogfish are a favourite subject of underwater photographers, except the pure black frogfish as its so hard to capture their eye. The photo can easily look like just a black blob, as you can see in this photo.  Yes it really is a frogfish!

The featured top image was taken at Roda Reef by Jose Cortez. Roda Reef and similar muck diving sites such as Pertamina Jetty and Tasi Tolu are the best places to spot frogfish in Timor Leste as your eyes are attuned to spotting small stuff. However, frogfish can be found on other sites, they are just very hard to spot.

Book a dive with one of our eagle eyed scuba dive guides and we will try and find a frogfish for you.