Field Marks: Bizarre would accurately describe the batfish. The head and trunk are broad and flattened, often triangular, with a projecting snout, or rostrum. In appearance it might be mistaken for a piece of rock because of the grayish yellow and white colors that are blended. The fins and cheeks have black spots, giving it a netlike appearance. There are spots extending from the side of the eye and running all the way to the caudal fin. If the fish is flipped over a second pair of (pectoral) fins can be seen; they look like hands to some degree. The back fin moves laterally, or side to side, rather than in an up and down motion. The main feature that is found on other species of Batfish is the illicium, or fishing rod, used to lure fish (frogfish also use this structure). It is easy to distinguish the Polkadot batfish because it does not have the illicium and it lives in shallow waters.
Size: 11-14 inches (28-36 cm).
General Habitat: Lives in saltwater. Prefers shallow waters, including coral reefs, and down to 230 feet.
Range: Southeast Florida, Bahamas, and northeast Gulf of Mexico to Campeche.
The fish was spotted when we were taking out our nets to go fishing. It was within 5 feet of the shoreline. The fish did not move very fast even when we spotted it and were pursuing it with the net. It began to swim in a side-to-side motion. When we caught it, no one seemed to really know what it was; at first it was thought to be some toad fish and we were all afraid to pick it up, not knowing whether it had a spine. The fish looked very old, like it had been alive for years, and resembled coral. One might have mistaken it easily for some kind of rock by its appearance. It seemed to take in water through its mouth and excrete it behind its eyes where the gills were located. Once it was picked up it was extraordinary how hard the top of the fish was. Yet underneath it felt soft and bloated. It was very smooth and yet had a slimy texture to it. Underneath there were two more pectoral fins that looked like small hands because it seemed to move around with them in the bowl we had. It had some spines along the back, from the eyes to the caudal fins, but they were not very sharp or long. When we let the fish go, it tried to burrow into the sand a little and then it just sat there. Camouflage is great when catching small sea creature, but not with 15 people looking straight at you!
Cochran, Gary. Florida’s Fabulous Fishes. Tampa: World Publications, 2003.
Robins, C. Richard, and G. Carleton Ray. Atlantic Coast Fishes. Peterson Field Guides. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986.
Video: Polka-dot Batfish
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