Ranger Rick Frogfish October 2016


By Kathy Kranking

They walk! They fish for their food! And they dress as if every day were Halloween!

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Check out the giant frogfish at above. In its clever costume, it looks like part of the red sponge it’s resting on. That’s one of the freaky things about frogfish–lots of them don’t even look like fish! Frogfish have bodies that may be strangely shaped, with funny knobs or “horns.” Their skin may be bumpy or smooth. They may be covered with tassels or fringes. And some will even change color to match their surroundings. Frogfish’s disguises can make them look so much like sponges, coral, or other things that they seem to just disappear. Fish? What fish?

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Like all members of the frogfish family, the giant frogfish and the sargassum frogfish are masters of disguise.

Full of Surprises
You’ve already seen that frogfish don’t look much like fish. Well, they don’t act much like fish either. For one thing, instead of swimming, frogfish prefer to walk! Frogfish can swim, but they’re slow and clumsy. They can get around much better by walking–or even crawling or hopping–using their fins as feet.

But frogfish spend a lot of time just sitting still, too–pretending to be things such as corals or sponges. Blending in so well that they can barely be seen, they do another freaky thing: They fish for their food! A frogfish has all it needs to be good at fishing: lots of patience and a fishing pole. The pole is built in to the fish’s head. And at the tip of it is a fleshy lure. Depending on the species of frogfish, the lure can look like anything from a little fish to a shrimp to a worm.

Holding the rest of its body very still, the frogfish wiggles the lure to make it look as if it’s alive. (Frogfish are sneaky as well as freaky!)

Down the Hatch
When a curious, hungry fish comes near the lure, the frogfish goes into action. It opens its mouth super fast, sucking in a lot of water. And with the water goes the prey. Gulp! The food slides down the frogfish’s throat, and the water goes back out through its gills. The whole thing is freaky fast–taking only a tiny fraction of a second!

Frogfish eat more than just fish. They also like worms and other small creatures. Sometimes a frogfish will stalk its prey, moving step by step across the sea floor until it’s close. Then it opens its mouth and, like a vacuum cleaner, sucks in the prey.

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Fooling Everyone
Prey animals aren’t the only ones tricked by the disguises of frogfish. People–such as scientists trying to study the fish–have been fooled, too. Frogfish have so many different disguises and color changes that scientists thought there were more than 130 species of these fish. But then they figured something out: Some of the fishes they thought were different species were the same species in different disguises. Now they believe there are actually about 53 species of frogfish.

Egg-stra Care
When it comes to raising young, most kinds of frogfish don’t stick around to care for their eggs. Usually, the female releases her eggs, and the male fertilizes them. Then both of them swim away. The eggs float along until the young hatch and drift off on their own.

But a few species do care for their eggs. The female may attach her eggs to her mate’s body. Then he carries them around until they hatch. Or the female may lay her eggs in a protected place, such as a cave or ledge. Then she or the male guards the eggs until they hatch. Any egg-predators that come too close may be eaten!

After baby frogfish hatch, they float along in the ocean for a while. Then, when the time is right, they settle to the bottom, ready to do all the freaky things that make frogfish so special!

If you have a chance to visit a public aquarium, see whether it has a frogfish exhibit. It’s a great opportunity to meet a frogfish face to face–if you can find its face!

When eating, a frogfish can expand its mouth to 12 times its normal size! But the giant frogfish above isn’t trying to catch a meal. Frogfish also open their mouths very wide when they feel threatened. The male smooth frogfish below is guarding his eggs. See the little black eyes of the babies growing inside?Male frogfish are much smaller than their mates. At the bottom of this female’s body is a puffy sac full of eggs. Soon she’ll release the eggs, and the male waiting below her will fertilize them.Only about the size of a grain of rice, this baby orange painted frogfish is a mini-model of its parents. As an adult, it may be up to a foot long.

“Freaky Frogfish” originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)

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