January 21, 2024
By Damond Benningfield

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Batfish use their fins to walk on the sea floor and attract prey using lures and chemical secretions. Credit: SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC.

There are lots of ways for a fish to attract its prey. The batfish uses two ways. It dangles a lure over its head, which pulls the prey in close. It then squirts a fluid into the water that completes the job—it pulls the prey close enough for the batfish to grab it.

Batfish—also known as seabats—are odd little creatures. They have wide, flat bodies. Seen from above, they can resemble garden spades or pancakes. They’re fairly small, and they live on the bottom of warm oceans and seas around the world.

Batfish are terrible swimmers. But some of their fins act like legs, so the fish amble across the bottom. Their gait resembles that of a bat walking on its elbows—hence the name.

Batfish are a type of anglerfish. Most anglerfish have a lure on their heads. Many of those lures glow. As the anglerfish swims along, the lure sways back and forth, catching the attention of possible prey.

The lures of batfish are different. For one thing, the batfish can reel in the lure, storing it out of sight. And for another, the lure doesn’t glow. Instead, it’s shaped like something the batfish’s prey might like to eat. That pulls the prey close. The fluid finishes the job, attracting shrimp, crabs, snails, and small fish.

There are about 60 species of batfish, including the polka-dot batfish; the pancake batfish, which looks like a pancake with legs; and the red-lipped batfish, which looks like it’s wearing clown makeup—all of them “ambling” across the bottom of the sea.