Reef Encounters: Good Hair Day | Sport Diver

Reef Encounters: Good Hair Day

Striated or hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus)

This frogfish is hunting in a bed of brindle-colored algae. Antennarius striatus is an extremely well-adapted hunter and very difficult to spot. It is unique due to its appearance and hunting behaviour. The hairy frogfish uses its lure and a powerful scent to draw its prey in close enough to employ its gape strike.

Mike Bartick

Juvenile Hairy Frogfish (A. striatus)

Juvenile hairy frogfish (A. striatus) already have a shaggy or hairy appearance.

Mike Bartick

Juvenile Hairy Frogfish

Juvenile A. striatus with the early stages of peach fuzz for hair yawns for my lens. This behaviour is seen amongst many fish species but is particularly dramatic with frogfish.

Mike Bartick

Algae Shrimp (Phycocaris simulans)

Part of the broken-back-shrimp complex, these shrimp are a great example of a hairy critter. Not only are they hard to find — they blend so well with the algae they hide in — but there are extremely small (.5 mm). Often kicked up inadvertently by a finning diver, the minuscule shrimp will float through the water column appearing as plankton or backscatter in a photo.

Mike Bartick

Red Algae Shrimp (Phycocaris simulans)

Red variation of the same type shrimp as the previous photo. If you look amongst the different-coloured or types of algae, you will often find the same critters, but coloured the same as the algae you find them in.

Mike Bartick

Orangutan crabs (Achaeus japonicus)

Decorator crabs collect and attach sponge, algae, and other organisms to assist in disguising themselves and for hunting. The juvenile in the foreground is just beginning to sport a new hairdo, while the crab in the back of the frame is already a very good example of just how hairy these guys can be. Watching the juvenile fluff his pompadour led me to say, “Good hair day, dude,” while laughing through my regulator.

Mike Bartick

Roughsnout ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paegnius)

These guys are hunting in their primary habitat. The two specimens in this photo are thoroughly adapted and very difficult to track. These two are hunting in typical fashion — with a head-down posture — and probably appear to be large blades of seagrass to the unsuspecting shrimp they feed on.

Mike Bartick

Purple Hairy Squat lobsters (Laurie siagian)

These animals are often referred to as hairy shrimp, but are closer to the crab family than to lobsters. It actually squats on a stubby tail that is tucked under its belly. The bristles grow right from the carapace and help the lobster to move and collect food. These guys live exclusively on purple barrel sponges, which are giant ecosystems unto themselves.

Mike Bartick

Hairy Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis sp.)

This variety of scorpionfish can be found near river runoffs living in estuaries and depths of up to 30 metres or greater. With a stout head and robust body, these guys are nearly indestructible. Slow moving, calculating, and stealthy, they move slowly and are often undetected until it’s too late, ambushing their prey.

Mike Bartick

My first encounter with a hairy frogfish immediately reminded me of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. That experience not only burned into my memory a long-lasting impression but created the indelible question: What’s with the hair?

Many critters have the ability to morph colors and some can even alter their shape, but do some actually have the ability to sprout hair? The trait seems to spread itself across different species within a particular habitat (such as Lembeh Strait in Indonesia), with critters that range from frogfish, scorpionfish, pipefish, octopus, shrimp, and crabs.

No one knows why some creatures seem to sport hair, which grows on their skin. The striated or hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus) is one such animal. Frogfish engage in a behavior known as aggressive mimicry. Many frogfish can disguise themselves as stones, sponges, or sea squirts, and this capability protects them from predators; they also can mimic a meal — such as appearing to dangle a worm or shrimp as a fishing lure — to their prey.

The frogfish is not the only critter decked out in a hairy costume. Other creatures include the orangutan crab; hairy scorpionfish, algae shrimp, and ghost pipefish, among others.

The critters in this niche-category are varied for sure, but they all seem to share one common thread — habitat. Close proximity to estuaries, shallow bays, and runoffs all tend to support beds of algae and sea grass; diving in these types of places will yield many interesting finds.

Mike Bartick was born and raised in Southern California, not far from the ocean in Huntington Beach. After finding his first nudibranch on an Open Water checkout dive, he was immediately hooked on diving. Bartick, who splits his time between the Indo-Pacific and the Eastern Pacific as a freelance photographer, photojournalist and field guide, shoots with a Nikon D300 and D300s, Sea and Sea housings, and YS-D1 and YS 250 pro strobes. To see more of his work, visit saltwaterphoto.com.

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