Here it is - the frogfish that took the breath away from every antennariidophile on the planet! WHAT A FISH! But what is it? Is it a new species? A new genus? AAAAA! Photo by Marty Snyderman (www.starknakedfish.com).
“I can say that in my 40 or so years studying frogfishes and anglerfishes in general, I have never seen one like this. Very striking is the highly unusual, flat face that allows the eyes to be directed forward, perhaps providing for binocular vision. The dorsal, anal, and caudal fins appear to be highly fleshy, covered by loose skin. Also, looking closely at the forehead, in the pictures sent earlier, I can’t see any trace of a luring apparatus. If I had to say what it’s closest living relative might be, I’d suggest the genus Histiophryne, but this taxon differs in a host of other ways. In summary, it’s quite unlike any antennarioid I’ve ever seen and most likely represents a genus new to science.”
The statement above was made by Dr. Theodore Pietsch, the frogfish guru and co-author of Frogfishes of the World. This quote appeared in a number of web articles that introduced this wonderful fish from the Island of Ambon, Indonesia to the world. Those articles appeared earlier in 2008, but what has transpired regarding the identity of this amazing Antennariid since its first appearance on the web?
The fish definitely appears to be a member of the genus Histiophryne (which currently contains two described species). Here is how the genus is described by Pietsch and Grobecker (1987) - the most distinguishing characteristic is that the second and third dorsal spines are firmly attached to the surface of the cranium by skin, which makes them very inconspicuous (all that is visible is a bump on the head and nape). They also have dorsal and anal fins that extend past the base of the caudal fin and are attached to this fin. (The frogfish from Ambon appears to share these characteristics with the two described species in the genus.) The Histiophryne have a relatively short rod (illicium) and a lure that can be oval or lanceolate (in some cases it has skin folds). The angling gear is laid on the head rest in a narrow channel and may be hidden in some species by a fold of skin. The two described species (Histiophyrne bougainvilli and H. cryptacanthus are distinguished by the length of the illicium [it is longer in H. bougainvilli] and the rod and lure of the former is hidden in a groove on the head by folds of tissue.)
A pair of Histiophryne cryptacanthus in my home aquarium. This species was available on rare occasions, but because of their lack of color the market dried up fairly quickly!
One of the most unique things about the Histiophryne is their reproductive mode. These fish lay a relatively small number of large eggs, which remain in a cluster. The male wraps his body around, creating a pocket, which the eggs are hidden in.
As frogfish go, these Histiophryne are really quite homely! Their heads and bodies are often devoid of scabs, bumps, tassels or other adornment, the features that make many of the frogfishes more interesting (Histiophryne cryptacanthus sometimes has patches of scab like growths). They often appear smooth skinned. While the base color of these frogfishes is usually not that striking (for example, they are not cherry red, bubble-gum pink, screaming yellow or bright orange like some other froggies), some do sport interesting color patterns. That is, of course, what makes the proposed new species from Ambon so gob-smacking! The intricate network of white lines all over the head and body are particularly striking. The cryptic frogfish (H. cryptacanthus) sometimes has reddish-brown spots, with white borders, all over the head and body. However, some specimens are light colored overall (tan or light gray) with patches of khaki green and white and brown scabby growths.
Roger Steene's mystery Histiophryne from the Raja Ampats, West Papua. Is it a color form of H. cryptacanthus or something completely different?
Roger Steene has also photographed an interesting member of the genus from the Raja Ampats that has an intricate maze of narrow white lines (narrower than those on the Ambon species) that he and Dr. Gerald Allen call H. cryptacanthus in their book Reef Fish Identification - Tropical Pacific. But I am not confident in that identification. While it can be difficult to separate frogfish species on the basis of photos, I would bet this is something else. (Then again, it could be an unusual color form of H. cryptacanthus? Who knows without specimens.)
Another color form of H. cryptacanthus (it looks like a moldy chicken McNugget) - not as attractive as his Ambon cousin. This individual was photographed a Edithburgh Pier, South Australia.
So what about that proposed new species – the mysterious Ambon frogfish. This fish, which no doubt occurs in other parts of Indonesia as well, is probably new, but it is very likely a member of the genus Histiophryne. We will wait for the description to come out and I will certainly let you know when that happens.
©2008 Scott W. Michael