Frogfish – Bizarre Eating Machine Facts

Frogfish – Bizarre Eating Machine Facts

Strange Facts About This Rare Visitor To Phuket’s Diving Sites

Frogfish are a favourite of scuba divers all over the world and we’re fortunate enough to get them in Phuket. These weird little creatures with a face only a mother could love have many strange adaptations that make it an incredibly efficient predator and some that make it just plain comical.

They generally ignore divers and photographers even when they’re extremely close and very often carry on ‘fishing’ despite the close proximity but they do let you know when they’ve had enough, the yawn that every photographer likes to capture is a threat display although they have little to back up the threat apart from possibly whipping you with it’s lure.

Frogfish Yawning at Racha Noi Phuket

Frogfish Yawning at Racha Noi Phuket

The Facts

  • Has a fishing rod! – Yep, that’s right a fish with a fishing rod. In a blatant disregard of ethics the first spine on the dorsal fin of most frogfish has evolved into a rod (illicium) and a bait (esca). The frogfish will dangle the lure in front of it’s mouth to entice prey closer. If that doesn’t work then they will stalk their prey until they get into strike range.
  • Camouflage – Most animals use camouflage to keep them safe but not this bad boy. Frogfish use aggressive mimicry to conceal themselves from their prey and can change colour in a matter of hours (below you can see the same giant frogfish that has changed from orange to pink).
  • Swimming – Fail – Watching a frogfish swim will fill you with laughter rather than awe. Most species don’t have swim bladders and tend to waddle across the seabed, however they do have a cool trick up their sleeve – jet propulsion. Frogfish gulp in mouth fulls of water and eject it out of their tiny gill openings. Efficient – yes, elegant – very much no.
  • Lightening Reflexes – Fast is not the word that immediately springs to my mind when you see a frogfish but once its target comes into range the prey is engulfed in an attack that lasts just 6 milliseconds.
  • Big Mouth, Big Belly – Frogfish can expand their mouth up to 12 times it’s normal size (see above) allowing it to swallow prey larger than itself straight down into it’s cavernous expanding belly.
  • They’re Cannibals – Not exclusively but they will see other frogfish as potential prey. Considering they can eat prey almost twice the size as themselves they could swallow up their mum or dad. Just a matter of who strikes first
Frogfish Colour Change At Racha Noi Phuket

Frogfish Colour Change At Racha Noi Phuket

Identification

It’s a nightmare…. with so many colour variations, warts and bumps that they can change, differentiating between the species is extremely difficult. Size, spot patterns, rod length and lure type are all used in identification so getting a positive one from a single sighting or photo can be very difficult.

Below are photos of the more common species in the Indo-Pacific and how you can get a positive ID

Giant Frogfish At Racha Noi Phuket

Giant Frogfish At Racha Noi Phuket

Giant Frogfish (Antennarius commerson)
Phuket: Yes
Size: Up to 30cm
Illicium (rod) length: Longer than 2nd spine
Esca (lure): small, bushy at the base but with fine long filaments
Other: second and third dorsal spine are thick and bulb-like

freckled frogfish at koh doc mai

freckled frogfish at koh doc mai

Freckled Frogfish (Antennarius coccineus)
Phuket: Yes
Size: Up to 10cm
Illicium (rod) length: same length as 2nd spine
Esca (lure): small tuft with dark swellings at base
Other: No distinct tail base which distinguishes it from similar looking Spotfin Frogfish

Warty Frogfish In Phuket

Warty Frogfish In Phuket

Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus)
Phuket: Yes
Size: 8 – 10cm
Illicium (rod) length: twice as long as 2nd spine
Esca (lure): imitates small fish or shrimp, has ‘eye spot’
Other: easily recognisable, large triangular patches radiating from eye, warty skin, second and third dorsal spine has thin membrane

Painted Frogfish A Rare Find In Phuket Scuba Diving

Painted Frogfish A Rare Find In Phuket Scuba Diving

Painted Frogfish (Antennarius pictus)
Phuket: Rare
Size: Up to 15cm
Illicium (rod) length: twice as long as 2nd spine
Esca (lure): bushy with compressed appendages
Other: Can be easily confused with juvenile giant frogfish but has three spots on tailfin (can see in picture) and has a colour phase similar to warty frogfish but triangular markings don’t radiate from eye.

Striated Or Hairy Frogfish

Striated Or Hairy Frogfish

Striated Frogfish (Antennarius striatus)
Phuket: Nah
Size: Up to 20cm
Illicium (rod) length: same length as 2nd spine
Esca (lure): easily recognisable large worm like appendages
Other: also known as hairy frogfish but doesn’t always have the long filaments. The distinctive stripe pattern is always present

Sargassum Frogfish

Sargassum Frogfish

Sargassum Frogfish (Histrio histrio)
Phuket: Will have drifted by at some stage
Size: Up to 15cm
Illicium (rod) length: half the length of 2nd spine
Esca (lure): small with folds
Other: lives in sargassum weed so rarely seen by divers but has a very broad range.

Pyschedelic Frogfish In Ambon (courtesy of Evelina Wang)

Pyschedelic Frogfish In Ambon (courtesy of Evelina Wang)

Psychedelic Frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica)
Phuket: Nope
Size: Up to 5cm
Illicium (rod) length: none
Esca (lure): none
Other: There’s no mistaking this freaky looking fish and has only been found in a few places around Ambon. it’s thought to live very deep and only come to diveable depths to breed.

Truly a weird yet wonderful creature, to date there’s 49 different species of frogfish and plenty waiting in pickle jars to be formally identified. They’re not common in Phuket but if your guide points out what seems like a piece of coral or sponge, it could well be one of these masters of camouflage. So take a closer look and you may see a fish fishing!

Contact Our Experts To Find The Froggie!

By Justin Hartrey

I've been enjoying the incredible marine life in our oceans for over 25 years. 13 years ago I became a PADI professional, hoping to introduce as many people as possible to the incredible beauty of the seas.

Having been fortunate enough to dive all over south east and especially Thailand, I enjoy sharing my experience and passion on this blog.

Posted in Rare & Peculiar Critters on .

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