WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 11: STARGAZER FISH
It’s a real shocker! This fish is a serious contender. An A-list horror-fish. The WTF? series has featured some extraordinary, bizarre and frankly unbelievable fish species. Here’s one that might just blow them all out of the water. So to speak. Not only is this fish weird in a number of respects, but it is also dangerous. Behind its eyes it has a special ‘electric organ’ (a “Hammond”?**) that produces a shock when touched. Oh for a superpower like that, even if only to be used defensively.
“They’re the meanest things in creation,” fish scientist William Leo Smith, who owns a stargazer, told the New York Times. “I was so excited to get it. It’s the worst pet on earth.”
‘Fish out of water’. Note (but do not touch) the area behind its eyes…
The Northern Stargazer Astroscopus guttatus whiles away the long lazy days lying mostly buried by sand, the stargazy eyes on top of its head picking out prey – mostly small fish – to ambush and stuff into its bizarre YKK zip-mouth. It can bury itself in seconds. An adult stargazer may grow to nearly 2-foot of concealed eating machine. They will stay put unless disturbed, confident that a false move by a creature – it could be you in your flippers – will mean it will be in for a shock.
10 STARGAZER ATTRIBUTES TO ADMIRE (BESIDES THE ELECTRIC SHOCKS)
- The strange mouth looks as it does because it is fringed to keep out sand
- The head-top eyes can be made to protrude to allow a wider field of vision
- It ambushes small fish and swallows them whole (see video below)
- To lure prey, stargazers discharge seawater through their gills… (Reader: why?)
- It causes the sand to move about – possible lunch is waiting for a fish further up the food chain
- They are born with eyes on side of the head; they move to the top as they grow from the larval stage
- They are content to be solitary, except in the Spring (for the usual reasons)
- Apparently “little is known about the mating behaviours of these creatures”. A pity, I feel.
- They have no scales, but they make up for that with an impressive 13 anal spines
- Unimpressed? Well they also have venomous spines near their gills & above their pectoral fins
WEIRD FISH – AND WHAT’S WITH THE WEIRD NAME?
I wondered that too. The Astroscopus part derives from the Greek, ‘astro’ (star) and Latin ‘scopus’, a conceptual noun combining watching and targeting – think ‘telescope’, or ‘far-target-watching’. The guttatus (L) part simply means spotted or speckled. A Homo guttatus may need mild medical attention.
THOSE ELECTRIC SHOCKS – HOW BAD ARE THEY?
Well. I kinda knew you’d ask so I looked into it. According to the exceptionally cool ‘Monsters of the Deep’ (see credits), the stargazer shock is approximately 50 volts. The British Health and Safety Executive, whose job is normally to interfere with almost every aspect of daily life in the UK (“you are strongly advised not to drink from bottles marked ‘Rat Poison’ portraying a Skull & Crossbones motif, lest disappointment should result”) has assisted:
A voltage as low as 50 volts applied between two parts of the human body causes a current to flow that can block the electrical signals between the brain and the muscles. This may have a number of effects including: stopping the heart beating properly; preventing the person from breathing; causing muscle spasms.
The exact effect is dependent upon a large number of things including the size of the voltage, which parts of the body are involved, how damp the person is, and the length of time the current flows.
Sadly, you are quite unlikely to find a stargazer in Abaco waters, which lie slightly beyond their fairly limited western Atlantic range. But hop over to Floridian waters, move a bit north, and you might meet one.
**A musical instrument allusion
Credits: Adam Rees / Scuba Works; Canvasmas21 wiki; Nat Geo Kids; MONSTERS OF THE DEEP (cool underwater site to check out!); Casey Patton / FMNH; Mother Nature Network (inc for video); Wideangl (clip)