little things

Little Things in the ocean are exciting too

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I often wonder, is it a lack of education, or a lack of interest? When I take people diving I always like to show them the signs for the marine life we are likely to encounter. Yet it seems that usually, whenever I mention frogfish or nudibranchs I am met with looks of confusion. Other times I show people a small nudibranch and they hover 5ft above me and nod giving me the ok signal. Meanwhile, I know full well there is no way they really saw the tiny creature from that far away. It all makes me wonder; is it weird to like the little things?

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It Not Just Nudis

While guiding I also like to show people more common creatures that are easy to glance over. One of my favourites being the Panamic Barnacle Blenny, a small goggly-eyed fish that lives in holes in the reef. (See Video Above) I also point out Star of David Urchins, Christmas tree worms, and other small goodies on our reefs. Yet I never know if I’m going to get a ‘wow face’ or an ‘oh that’s nice face’.

Personally, I love discovering these little, hidden treasures. No matter what face I get underwater, once we return to the surface the main excitement always falls first and foremost to the big guys. The rays, the turtles and the sharks. Not that I don’t enjoy these beautiful animals, but they always take precedence over the little guys. But why? Isn’t a neon coloured sea slug who can survive through photosynthesis just as interesting?

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There Are Some Exceptions

When it comes to seahorses there is always excitement. Everyone knows what a seahorse is and everyone wants to see one. Divers love them and they will oftentimes take the lead in after-dive conversations. So what makes them different from the other little guys? Is it because they seem so mythical? Or are they just well known?

Some Say The Little Things are Boring

I’ve met plenty of dive professionals who find even seahorses boring. Originally, I would just look at them like they were crazy. However, I have come to understand why they believe this, though I don’t think I will ever agree. When you see a large animal it’s almost always doing something, even if it’s just swimming. While, in contrast, the little things seem to be just sitting there, not moving or really doing anything perceivable. 

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Perceivable being the keyword. Frogfish and even barnacles are always doing something, though you don’t always see it. It takes good buoyancy and patience to be able to observe the miniature world. A set of good eyes or a magnifying glass doesn’t hurt either. If you watch closely you can see the tentacle-like arm of a barnacle shooting out and capturing food before pulling it back into its mouth. You just need to take the time to look.

Small Creatures are Exciting

The first part of the excitement is actually finding and seeing these little animals. It is easy to spot an animal that is the same size as you but its another story entirely to find a sea slug that’s less than 1cm in length. After the initial sense of accomplishment, there is admiration and curiosity. Admiration for an organism so small to live in an ocean so big, and fascination for how strange and unique these creatures are.

In my experience, it is the little things that are the most colourful, and the most complex. Each of them has a unique strategy to survive, whether it be camouflage, venom, or mimicry. Oftentimes they also hunt differently than large marine organism as well. For example, the frogfish uses a lure to entice its prey.

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The Next Time You Dive

I implore you, that on your next dive or snorkel trip, that you try to enjoy the little things. Though they may not be as apparently interesting as finding a large animal, they are just as mesmerizing. Who knows, you may look into a crevice and find two crabs having a boxing match, or you may look into a coral and find a seahorse blending almost seamlessly into the branches. I implore you to find out more. The next time you find a new creature, or even familiar one, find out what it is. Read about that animal, how it lives and survives, and it will amaze you all the more.

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frogfish

Frogfish, the fish with superpowers

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Ranelle Ivens

SITE AUTHOR

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Ranelle’s addiction to SCUBA started in 2004. From a young age she has been fascinated by the ocean and the creatures living within it. Her Ultimate dive dream is to swim with Orcas and to dive the world. Ranelle is a certified PADI Specialty Instructor and spent 3 years in university studying Science and Biology.

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Frogfish, or as I like to call them, the pug of the ocean, is a species of fish that is unique and interesting. These adorably ugly fish are a favourite among many divers as they can be very rare and difficult to spot. Being a type of anglerfish they are fascinating to watch, and sometimes exhibit odd and endearing behaviours.

What is Heck is a frogfish?

Most people have no idea what a frogfish is, simply because they are hard to find, and so they’ve never heard of them. As I mentioned earlier its an anglerfish, meaning it uses a lure to catch its prey. This means that they don’t move much. Instead, they prefer to camouflage themselves and lie in wait like little ninjas. Frogfish have a toad-like appearance and open and extend their mouths like a frog, hence the name.

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Where do they live?

There are around 47 known species of frogfish and they can be found all over the world. Including salt, brackish, and freshwater environments. Meaning they are quite adaptable! However, they are not found in the Arctic nor the Mediterranean sea. Generally, these little dudes like an average water that’s 20 C (68 F) or warmer. I don’t blame them either, who likes living in the cold? As a result of their temperature preferences, frogfish don’t live very deep but have been found in up to 100M (330 ft) of water. In my experience, they are 4-10M (10-30 ft) deep.

You could also attribute their prefered depth and temperatures to their living environment. Camouflage is very important for this animal, and because of that, they live on the ocean floor. Usually, on reefs or near corals as this gives them lots of places to hide in plain sight, though some do hunt in the sand

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The Hunter and the Hunted

Being an anglerfish, you must wonder what this fish fishes for. The answer actually depends on the species of frogfish. Different kinds of frogfish have different lures, each specializing in attracting different kinds of food. The lure is actually called an esca. Some mimic shrimp, small fish, tubeworms, or bristle worms. What is even more interesting, is that the esca can be regenerated, just in case dinner gets a little bitey. Though, it would be pretty hard for the frogfish’s prey to eat the esca, as the frogfish will catch and swallow its prey in about 6 milliseconds. So fast that other animals can’t even see it happen.

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In those 6 milliseconds, the frogfish will open its mouth, sucking water and it’s prey inside. It will then swallow its dinner expelling the water from its gills. In addition to this, the frogfish has a special muscle that will trap the prey inside so it can’t escape. Believe it or not, a frogfish can eat prey that’s up to twice its size! Not only can it expand its mouth, but its stomach as well. Watch the video above to see what I mean.

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Ninja Skills

Apart from being able to move lightning fast and gobble up prey twice its size, the frogfish can blend into the reef and even mimic other animals. Like ninjas, frogfish don’t have much in the way of armour. They have no scales but instead a soft squishy skin that can change colour. (Did you know Seahorses also change colour?!?) In addition to this, their skin has a unique texture to it. The texture will depend on the species but will allow them to mimic sponges of corals. Alternatively, some frogfish grow algae on their bodies to help them blend in.

In comparison to adult frogfish, the babies camouflage a little differently. Instead of trying to mimic their surroundings they will impersonate other animals. Usually, they will disguise themselves as a venomous nudibranch (sea slug) to deter predators. By now you must be wondering what it is they are trying to hide from. The reason behind all the cloak and shadow is due to their primary predators; damselfish, wrasses and clownfish. As you may know, especially in the case of damselfish and wrasses there are MANY of them in the marine environment making hiding difficult. Luckily Frogfish are mini ninjas

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Frogfish have a Superpower

Who knew these ugly little fish were so damn cool right? So what is their superpower? I like to call it JET BURST! What it is, is a unique propulsion method. The frogfish will suck water into their mouths and push it out of gills located behind their pectoral fins. The force of the expelling water shoots them forward like a jet. This technique gives them a burst of speed allowing them to quickly escape predators. And, if you pair Jet Burst, along with the fact that their mouths can expand up to 12x their normal size, these lazy fish can actually move pretty fast.  

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