Friday, July 23, 2010

Chasing The Batfish

Fishville in Facebook is a favorite pastime of mine. Until recently, I thought that the game makers at Zynga simply made up the host of caricature funny fishes in their Fishville game. Then I plugged a few of the fish names into the internet and was surprised to see that all are based on an actual fish.
Pinnated batfish from Fishville on Facebook

Speaking of Fishville, one of my new favorite fishes is called the Deep Sea Angler. The animated game version of that bigheaded toothy fish looks totally improbable UNTIL you look at the actual Deep Sea Anglers, which are some of THE most bizarre creatures anyone could ever imagine. In fact, the actual Anglers are stranger looking than the Fishville representation.

Months ago, when Fishville brought out the Pinnate Batfish I thought for sure that nothing could actually exist like it in nature. I was wrong again, but I only I found out for sure during a snorkeling session at Sabang last month.

I had the camera in video mode lazily exploring the shallow water forty feet from where we step out of our beachfront room when suddenly there in my face was a live version of the Facebook batfish.

‘Whoa! No way!’ I thought. ‘THAT’S the fish from Fishville! A batfish! How cool is that?’

Listen carefully to the video and you can hear its comparatively tiny rearmost fin called the caudal fin flittering frantically on full speed to keep it moving to escape my following presence. That tiny “fin propeller” just does not look big enough for “the boat” it’s trying to push; yet, even though it appears vastly underpowered, the fish is actually faster than it looks. I tried to kick ahead of it to get more of a profile angle of it on the video but with flippers alone I couldn’t manage to do so.

I found the following information online about batfish at the AnimalPlanet.Com website:

“Batfish belong to the Ephippididae family. The majority of the species that are available for sale in the aquarium trade are from the genus Platax. Batfish can reach a size of around 15 inches in an aquarium, and over 20 inches in the wild. Batfish are usually recognized by their elongated dorsal (top) and anal (bottom) fins when young. As the fish grow, the fins become shorter and the body becomes longer.

Batfish live in tropical and subtropical oceans throughout the world. Juvenile Batfish live in inshore waters with mangroves, floating on the surface of the water in order to mimic a floating leaf. Larger Batfish usually are found on or around coral reefs. Depending on the age of the fish, Batfish can be found in schools, or as solitary individuals. The diet of Batfish consists of invertebrates such as worms, small anemones, hydroids, and small crustaceans.”

So obviously, based on the above info, the batfishes in my video are youngsters. The pics I found of adult batfish show that they eventually grow into their oversized upper and bottom fins, although they keep their unusual triangular appearance and actually resemble an angelfish at that stage.

I’m not sure why these particular batfish were in the area that I videoed them. At that young age they are relatively slow movers with limited maneuverability and so would appear to be easy prey in the open water. But maybe not—their girth is so slim that from directly behind and from the front, to a half blind predator they would be almost invisible. Also, to a stupid predator I imagine that the oversized fins make the juvenile batfish appear more substantial than they actually are. It follows then that a young batfish would be absolutely protected from the advances of a stupid half blind predator fish. May it be so!

What tickles me when watching them in the water is how the immature batfish resembles a sailing vessel while moving through the water. To make a turn they lay way over on their side as if tacking, the only fish I’ve seen do that (so far). In that respect they also remind of the way a large aircraft banks through the air when making a rolling turn around their longitudinal axis. Normal fish just don’t do that, or its just not nearly so apparent. In that respect, everything about the batfish is exaggerated. But I imagine once they grow into their adult bodies that their unusual manner of maneuvering becomes more typical of other fish.

I just do NOT get tired of this stuff. I should have been a marine biologist. . . .Oh well, maybe in my next life.

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