Updated: Aug 13, 2021
Is it a frog? Or rather, a fish? The hairy frogfish is quite an odd sea creature and it is likely that one would find themselves confused.
The Antennarius striatus, common name hairy frogfish, is a type of fish that is short and round and reaches lengths of only eight or nine inches long. Surprisingly, it does not have any scales. Instead, the frogfish's body is covered with fleshy hair-like structures called spinules. These spinules are long and thin, giving the frogfish a "hairy" appearance.
"These... [spinules]... have the ability to change color to match their surroundings to help the frogfish blend into coral, sponges and seaweed."
Furthermore, the hairy frogfish doesn't actually swim but rather, "crawls" on the ocean floor using the short fins of the bottom of its body. It is quite a sight! On the top of its body is a special extra-long spine on the dorsal fin, called the esca, which looks like a wriggling worm and is often able to lure in prey and other fish. The esca is also able to regenerate if injured or even lost.
Frogfish have several defense mechanisms. Firstly, they can puff up to prevent their predators from being able to swallow them. They also have unique camouflage abilities; they change colors and patterns to blend in with their surroundings and can mimic creatures that their predators tend to avoid, like sea urchins. It is evident that these defense mechanisms greatly help to protect the hairy frogfish and that they are well-adapted for survival in their habitats.
The hairy frogfish lives in warmer shallow waters around the world and can be found in nearly all tropical and subtropical oceans and seas, other than the Mediterranean Sea. In the United States, they are often found along the Atlantic coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in Hawaii. As aforementioned, they stay near the ocean floor, where there are coral reefs and sponges. They can be seen hiding in debris and reach depths of 330 ft (100 m). These frogfish make quite popular subjects for underwater photographers.
Hairy frogfish are carnivorous, meaning they feed on other animals such as crustaceans, other fish, and even other frogfish, making them cannibalistic. In some cases, it was reported that males will kill and eat females if they stayed too close after mating!
"They will stay in the same position on the ocean floor for weeks at a time in a place they consider a good hunting spot. The camouflaged frogfish will wait until its victim gets close enough before they strike."
Frogfish can capture their prey at incredible speeds- just 6 milliseconds! This is less time than it takes a muscle to contract, so the source of the motion remains yet to be discovered.
Outside of captivity, the lifecycle of the hairy frogfish is uncertain and they are known to live quite secluded lifestyles. Males and females gather at the time of mating but do not tolerate each other after the drainage. As a juvenile, the hairy frogfish may be a mottled white or yellow, but as the individual continues to mature, its colors can change to pink, yellow, black, beige, green, and more, often sprouting scab-like appendages.
The hairy frogfish is not unaffected by climate change. As daily ocean temperatures are on the rise, marine ecosystems struggle to survive. In particular, ocean acidification, lower levels of oxygen in the water, and coral bleaching are some of the main causes of the loss of coral reefs, where the hairy frogfish lives.