weird fishes

These fish are cooler than you

The Asian sheepshead wrasse | Photo by Tony Wu

The natural world is fantastically bizarre. Discover ten mind-blowing sea creatures that are cooler than you – and just some of the reasons why we must protect it. Minipizza batfish, we see you!

The world’s oceans are home to some incredible-looking creatures, both beautiful and ugly as sin. Some of them are so weird they defy everything we know about evolution and puzzle scientists across the globe. From shape-shifting, sex-switching monsters to the spectacularly-named, UFO-like minipizza batfish, here are 10 of the most mysterious fishies out there.

(Suggestion ► Listen to Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes’ while reading this.)

The red-lipped batfish 

This bearded lady’s dating profile pic is on point

This beauty might have a superhero name but this is one unfish-like fish. An inefficient swimmer. Found off the coast of the Galapagos Islands and Peru, the the red-lipped batfish prefers to waddle clumsily over the ocean floor using its fins as legs. It’s thanks to this tactic that means it has no predators. Us humans haven’t been able to pinpoint what the bottom dweller’s red pout is for, but it’s likely to be about finding love. And if you thought the batfish couldn’t get any weirder, we give you… the minipizza batfish. Pepperoni is extra.

The mystic minipizza batfish is a dishy fishie | Photo by Tony Wu
Ugly squared | Photo by Tony Wu

This is one charismatic sex-changing fish. The male Asian sheepshead wrasse (kobudai in Japanese) gains his distinctive hump when SHE was about ten years of age. Scientists believe the transformation is caused when a female senses the absence of the dominant male, which may release a cascade of stress hormones. But there is an even wilder fact: an 80-year-old Japanese scuba diver called Hiroyuki Arakawa had a three decade ‘relationship’ with one of these fish. The caretaker of an underwater Shinto shrine in Japan would call the fish by hitting a bell.

A heartwarming fishy love story

The monogamous Caribbean chalk bass

Not a cheater

Changing sex after ten years… that’s nothing! This hermaphroditic bass changes sex up to 20 times in a day. The small reef fish, no more than three inches long, switches sex roles with their partner, swaying between different sex roles to ensure that there is no shortage of eggs. And they mate for life, so we guess that keeps things interesting.

The largetooth sawfish

it might look ferocious but the largetooth sawfish is under attack

You ain’t never seen a snout like this before. The night-hunting sawfish use their ‘rostrums’ to activate a sort of sixth sense to pick up the presence of their prey’s invisible electric fields. And it kills its prey by using its saw as… a saw. Although it might look like a shark, the largetooth sawfish are actually a type of ray. Well, it’s a shame about ray because populations have dramatically declined worldwide thanks to overfishing and their long rostrums getting entangled with fishing gear intended for other species.

An ancient fish from the dinosaur era

They might have tiny brains, but the people-sized coelacanths are still around from the dinosaur era (around 400 million years ago) and can live for a whopping 100 years. They were thought to be extinct until a live one was caught in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. These giant, slow-moving nocturnal fish of the deep grow at an achingly slow pace and females don’t hit sexual maturity until their late 50s. And maybe strangest of all, researchers figure pregnancy can last…. five years.. and then they give birth to live young.  Scientists think they might be important for understanding the transition from water to land. 

The seaweed is alive

This is David Attenborough’s favourite animal, so all others can bow down. Part of the same family that the seahorse belongs to, the leafy sea dragon’s spiny fins and leafy camouflage appearance lets it sneak up on unsuspecting prey and hide away from any predators looking to turn it into a meal. This means that the Leafy Sea Dragon has no known predators.

All eyes and no mouth | Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

No, those are not eyes. The two spots above the mouth of this fish are similar to our nostrils. It’s called the barreleye fish because it tracks bioluminescent prey with extremely light-sensitive rotating eyes encased in a see-through fluid-filled protective shield on its head. Around 15cm-long, you are unlikely to ever be freaked out by one as they reside in the ocean’s shadowy twilight zone.

Twinkle twinkle little fish

Sometimes known as the glass catfish, this small species is native to rivers in Thailand and a popular aquarium fish thanks to being so glam. Just a little bit of white light turns it into a rainbow. This is thanks to tiny crystals in their transparent skin because the ghost catfish doesn’t have scales; it has tightly packed structures in the muscles that can bend light. Scientists think the iridescence helps them blend in with shimmering water to hide from birds and when travel in schools.

How do you like your eggs? Imitating an egg

OK, so it’s not a strictly a fish but who cares when you look as cool as this fried egg jellyfish? It picks up hitchhikers like fish and crabs that sit in between their pulsating bell and tentacles. Then it catches its prey in the tentacles. Unlike other creatures, jellyfish laugh in the face of climate change and their populations are thriving. Bonus fact: did you know jellyfish are the oldest creatures on Earth? At least 500 million years old, they are about three times as old as dinosaurs.

Here comes the sun

It looks like a prehistoric shark on a bad day, weighs more than a car, grunts and might be the world’s weirdest fish – I mean, it can lay up to 300,000,000 eggs at one time – but what you really want to know is why it’s called a sunfish, right? That’s because the ocean sunfish spends half its say sunbathing near the surface of the water to get warm after hunting in deep water. Oh, and they were an acceptable form of tax payment by Shoguns in 17th century Japan. A weird fish indeed.

What’s so good about this?

Marine life comes in all shapes and sizes but saving the “ugly” fish from extinction is more crucial than ever. When it comes to conservation, It is the ugliest fish who are most at risk of dying out. Yet they are also the most ecologically important. So stop being so superficial… because it’s not all about cute species like the clownfish. Blobfish need need love too.

Meet the writer

Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”

Follow @lisagoldapple on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. (Open to freelance collaborations.)

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