New 'walking' fishes discovered in Gulf oil-spill zone
Two new fish species — with pancake-flat bodies, wiggling lures on their faces, and elbowed fins for "walking" on the seafloor — have been discovered in the path of spewing Gulf of Mexico oil.
One of these pancake batfishes lives in the northern Gulf where oil is already spreading from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, says ichthyologist Prosanta Chakrabarty of Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural Sciences in Baton Rouge, a codiscoverer of the species.
Chakrabarty calls this narrowly distributed species the Louisiana pancake batfish. Its full scientific name, in the genus Halieutichthys, hasn't even been published yet. The oil's impact on the soon-to-be new species isn't clear. "All we can say is that its habitat is threatened," Chakrabarty says.
The other newly identified pancake batfish has a somewhat broader range. Yet all pancake batfishes, now three species in total, live in water that could be fouled if Gulf oil heavily taints the Loop Current off Florida's west coast.
Louisiana pancake batfish grow only about "that big," Chakrabarty says, making a circle of his thumb and forefinger. They're as thick as an exceptionally fluffy pancake. Fins that work almost like stubby arms prop them up or let them waddle along the bottom.
Unlikely as it may sound, these little squashed-looking fishes are anglerfish, a group most people know from nature documentaries depicting these chunky, fanged creatures of the deep ocean. Anglerfishes get their name from projections that dangle somewhere in the vicinity of their mouths and invite overly curious passersby in for lunch. Pancake batfishes have a lure too, a stubby projection that twitches where a nose would be on a mammal face.