Based on name, behavior and overall appearance, with bonus points for bizarre appendages, the warty frogfish in Wild Reef is the perfect Halloween fish. It looks less like a frog and more like your jack-o’-lantern…by Thanksgiving. That is, until you notice it crawling around its rocky reef habitat on four webbed feet. Okay, those are really fins, but the stalked pectoral, or front, fins and especially the big pelvic fins, which look like 11-toed webbed feet with little claws at the end, strongly resemble a frog’s locomotive anatomy. Other froggy aspects are its prominent wartlike scales, called dermal spicules, and its massive mouth. Frogfish are also known as anglerfish. They have what can only be described as a built-in fishing pole on the head. A fleshy lure that can be wiggled at will hangs from the tip, just above that big froglike mouth. Hunkered down on the reef and looking like a brightly colored coral or sponge (or squishy pumpkin), the frogfish projects the pole and waits for a hungry fish to take the bait. Then whoosh, the frogfish’s mouth juts forward and sucks in the prey in six-thousandths of a second. That’s just supernatural. A frogfish can put away prey twice its size, engulfing it whole and folding the fish within its stretchy stomach (and correspondingly expandable body). Strange to us, but perfect for some sea witch’s familiar.
Tomorrow we slog ashore in the Malay archipelago, where not all predators are animals.
—Karen Furnweger, web editor
Want more creepy critters? Follow the tour through spooky Shedd!