WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH): ‘GUITARFISH ROCK’
A spectacular entry in my WTF? series came courtesy of Adam Rees and a night dive in Florida waters: the guitarfish, (Gr: rhinos – nose; batis – ray) . Until I saw Adam’s photos, this creature was unknown to me. It sounded so improbable, and conjured up some nightmare piscine-based modification of a Strat, an instrument whose classic looks should not be meddled with without consequent loss of liberty.
The guitarfish belongs to a family of rays, Rhinobatidae, of which there are many species worldwide. In some ways the fish looks like a crossover with a shark. Although they have a ‘ray face’ and small wings, there is also a sharklike appearance with its fins and a sharklike swimming action (see video, below). If you think there is a primitive or prehistoric look to the guitarfish, you’d be right. According to the temporal range chart they date from the late Jurassic era.
I have been trying to nail the exact model of Adam’s finny Strat-ray. I am putting my money on the Atlantic guitarfish Rhinobatos lentiginosus, which may (or may not) be the same as the spotted or freckled; and is similar to the more widely photographed shovelnose guitarfish with its cute face. Not that I am very bothered: it’s the overall unusualness of Adam’s creature that really counts.
The strange thing is that although the guitarfish is a denizen of, for example, floridian, caribbean and mexican gulf waters, it is said to be unrecorded for the Bahamas. These bottom-feeding creatures inhabit shallower waters near coastlines and estuaries. They eat crabs, shellfish and worms – all in plentiful supply in Bahamas waters – so I can’t see a reason why they should not be found there. Perhaps they are seen but unreported. I have in mind the recent reports of SAWFISH and BATFISH. So kudos awaits the person who reports – with photo – the ‘first’ Bahamas guitarfish. Maybe there’s scope for a song about it!
- Usually caught by mistake by anglers, or as bycatch by fishing vessels
- Inedible (unless someone knows better…)
- Non-aggressive and harmless to humans despite having a mouthful of small teeth
- Swims like a shark – the tail has no spinal structure
- Has a cute face (unlike a a shark)
- Adults are about 30 inches long
- They may bury themselves in sand or mud to ambush prey
- They are viviparous, giving birth to live young that are born fully developed
As a postscript, it’s worth mentioning that on the same night dive, Adam also came across the uncommon batfish, a seriously prickly-looking starfish, and a spotted eagle ray. Worth losing sleep for.
A similar kind of guitarfish, showing the very sharklike movements in the water
Credits: Adam Rees, with many thanks; Greg Hume; Johan Fredriksson wiki; magpie pickings, in particular Florida Museum of Natural History / Taylor Sullivan and the truthful parts of various Wiki articles