So last Wednesday I got a message from DSN reader Aaron England Looze asking if I could identify this fish:
Anyone who knows me knows I love weird animals, so of course I took the bait. And because I work at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, my preliminary investigation consisted of walking around the hallway with my iPhone, asking people if they’d ever seen this fish. The scientific consensus is that it is “very scary” and “ew, turn the video off!” But this was mostly from people who study sea anemones and other inverts, so I waltzed into the lab of fish biologist Dr. Joel K. Llopiz, hoping for an ID. Joel is the go-to guy for this sort of creepy critter, and while he hadn’t seen this particular fish before, he was intrigued. Joel sent the video to colleagues over at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The verdict?
A GOBY! This fish is a goby. Possibly in the genus Taenioides.
Dear sweet, scary Goby: Your name is synonymous in my mind with tiny sand fish, with charismatic mudskippers and marvelous mandarinfish. The whole ‘jagged fangs’ and ‘pin eyes’ thing is just…well it’s just really, really freaking me out, dear Goby. The whole thing is pretty dang freaky.
Sarah Keartes over at Earth Touch News sleuthed out a similar identification, and even found a nice little nightmare-goby guide to go with it (PDF). The guide, by ichthyologist Edward Murdy, explains that the ridges on the fish’s face and body, which make it look so skeletal, are in fact covered with sensory structures. Now I’m not sure exactly what type of environment this fish was pulled from, but its tiny eyes and sensory ridges suggest a low-visibility habitat, possibly muddy brackish or freshwater, as Sarah Keartes suggests. And the text associated with the video is in Malay, so possibly somewhere in Malaysia.
But now here is the real question: How BIG is this guy? It looks like it’s a couple of feet long to my terrified brain, but without reference points it’s hard to tell. However, Joel Llopiz says it’s probably tiny: “These guys are only a few centimeters in length.” So there you go: a silver lining. If ever you find yourself swimming in muddy Malaysian waters, you can take comfort in knowing that this fish, though it may be lurking, is probably about the size of your pinky.
(P.S. I don’t blame the people who found this fish for poking it with a stick from a safe distance, I get it, this is one freaky fish. But as someone who works with animals that aren’t always well loved, I just want to stand on my tiny soap box for a second to encourage everyone to treat critters, even the ugly scary ones, with kindness. Let’s hope this little monster goby made it back to its dark little home safe and sound.)