Photograph by Foo Pu Wen

Red-Lipped Batfish

The red-lipped batfish looks exactly as the name suggests: like a bat with red lipstick on. Also known as the Galapagos batfish, this unusually shaped fish lives in the waters of Peru and around the Galapagos, in the shallow waters that, in most, cases don’t exceed the depth of 76 meters, though there have been a few sightings recorded at around the depth of 120 meters as well.

These strange creatures are small, the largest specimens being around 20 cm long. Their body, as the name suggests, is bat-like. They have a compressed body, a spine that consists of 20 vertebrae and very reduced and modified fins. Their head is relatively large, with a sharp nose that has hairs around it.

They are fish, but they are almost completely unable to swim – they just walk around on the sea bed, looking for food, even though they lack proper legs as well, their walking instruments being modified fins. As a matter of fact, all the fins of this batfish species are modified, some for making movement easier, others for making resting on the sea floor possible. Their bodies are usually of a grayish light-brown color, with a white belly. Adult individuals have a special protrusion on their head called illicium that emits light to attract prey.

The bright-colored lip is the most conspicuous feature of the animal and it is also the most studied characteristic. The reason why the bright color is needed has not been completely elucidated yet, but some marine biologists think that it serves the purpose of distinguishing the animal during the mating season.

They reproduce sexually, by spawning, releasing eggs that turn into pelagic larvae. They are extremely long-lived creatures – scientists think that they can live up to 200 years if they manage to find a spot where food is plentiful and water temperature, sea floor composition and depth are also suitable. They are hardy little creatures and they don’t have many predators, so they will probably be around in hundreds of years from now as well.

These batfish are carnivores and they have a huge appetite. They would feed on mollusks, shrimps, crabs and tiny fish – they would practically eat anything that is meaty and comes their way on the sea floor. They use their illicium to attract the prey – the organ emits a chemical that fluoresces in the water, luring tiny crustaceans to the batfish. This awkward predator has nothing else to do than snatch the prey and swallow it. Occasionally, batfish even mimic swimming, by drawing up their “legs” to go after their chosen prey, but they are not very good at it.

These creatures can be easily mistaken for their close relatives, the rosy-lipped batfish. The rosy-lipped relatives live around the Cocos Islands, and they look almost completely like the red-lipped species, the only difference being the coloring. Rosy-lipped fish have lighter-colored mouth and they lack the two stripes on the back that distinguish red-lipped batfish individuals.

Blane Perun

Blane Perun

Diver - Photographer - Traveler

Whale in Ocean