This pretty thing was found by Claudia Howse, Glenys Howse and James Beuvink while on holiday in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand earlier this month. Confused and dumbfounded, they sent it to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa for identification.
In a Facebook post, the museum initially said the “fish with legs” was “likely to be a species of Frogfish.” The museum’s resident fish expert Andrew Stewart has now identified the specimen as a striated frogfish, a.k.a the hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus.) After its postmortem, the researchers took a small tissue sample from the frogfish to keep for further examination.
Usually, this species has distinctive spotted or streaked marking, so this all-black look took everybody off guard.
"It is very unusual in that it is completely black, with only a trace of a pattern on the shaft of the Illicium (stem of the lure)," the museum wrote in their latest Facebook post, referring to the animal's fishing rod-like apparatus, similar to those seen in Anglerfish. "There are competing theories around this: is it one highly variable species, or several? The tissue sample we took will help to answer this."
These frogfishes are able to “walk” along and lurk on the seabed using their downward pointing pectoral fins. Despite their small stature, they’re also pretty ferocious carnivores that have been known to be cannibals. To reel in their prey, they use a worm-like lure on their head. Once in range, they outwardly expand their mouths, allowing them to gobble up fish the same size as them.
As the museum also explained in their Facebook post, “Frogfishes have the fastest bite of any vertebrate. Their mouths expand at the speed approaching a .22 rifle bullet – and that's in a medium 800x denser than air.”
Update 26/01/16: We’d like to clarify that the frogfish was NOT killed for research purposes. New Zealand museums have a long-held practice against killing any animals for this purpose. The family who found the fish put it into a saltwater bait tank, intending to send it to Kelly Tarlton's aquarium in Auckland for identification. Unfortunately the fish died, so instead they sent it to the museum as a research specimen.