WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (7): THE SOAPFISH


Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (7): THE SOAPFISH 

The WTF? series features some of the stranger fish that inhabit the waters of the Bahamas. Ones that, were you to encounter one on the reef, might make you exclaim “WTF?”. The soapfish Rypticus belongs in the same family as grouper and sea bass. Within the soapfish genus there are quite a few varieties in different shapes, sizes and colours that include several mottled, freckled, spotted and generally blotchy fish.  This post features one (or two) of them! Sorry to be lame here and lacking in authority, but having looked carefully online at images of several types of soapfish, I reckon there are 3 candidates. Freckled, I think these are. Enlightenment would be welcome!

Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Rypticus tend to inhabit shallower tropical and sub-tropical waters. They are mainly nocturnal in their habits, feeding at night on small fish, crustaceans and molluscs. The WTF? factor arises from the creature’s oddly truncated shape. If you cover the back end of the fish in the image below with your hand, you might expect the fish to be about the same length again. But no, there’s just the tail to come. It looks a bit cut in half.

Soapfish © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba

DOES THE SOAPFISH HAVE ANY AWESOME POWERS?

I’m glad you asked because in fact it has two. First, these fish respond to threats by secreting large amounts of toxic mucus from their skins. This acts as a defensive barrier to repel predators. Secondly, female soapfish are able to change sex to male. This is not uncommon among fish, and in some (e.g. Clownfish) the change works the other way, male to female. I read a lot about chemicals and gonads in this connection, then decided to spare you the details. So basically, it’s toxic slimy coats and female gender realignment.

Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba

 

5 thoughts on “WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (7): THE SOAPFISH

  1. Pingback: Female blackbird lays first egg, video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. In interesting aside here RH. In the late 1800’s and early 20th century, The name “Soapfish” was attributed to Snook species. It turns out that early settlers rarely skinned their fish before cooking, and the Snook were insulated from human diets up until around 1950’s when it evidently was discovered to be delicious once the skin was removed before cooking. Cooking a Snook fillet with the skin intact produced copious amounts of grossly, fishy suds.
    I have seen them in the Bahamas, but they mainly inhabit the near-shore Fla coastal zones and are able to spend extended stays in fresh water(Euryhaline is the technical term)….. Quite delicious, and as smart as fish come

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    • Rick, good to hear from you as ever. That’s a really interesting information-packed comment – as your interventions always are. Soapfish. Suds. It’s so easy. But they don’t look very delicious, that’s for sure! RH

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