Animal of the Month - Marbled Stargazer
Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought that things like this lived deep, deep down, far out of the reach of us recreational divers. Then one of our instructors saw one in the flesh whilst on a dive to our house reef, (yep, our house reef!) the Bio Rocks at just 18 meters.
Among many other fantastic little creatures on our Bio Rocks, the marbled stargazer fish is definitely one to keep an eye out for. And you really do need to keep an eye out as they bury most of their body beneath the sand, leaving just their boggly eyes, that are atop it's rugged head, and mouth visible to divers passing by. This behavior is where this critter gets it's name.
The marbled stargazer is a bony fish from the Uranoscopidae family, and there are almost 50 species. A brown-beige color, they are quite well camouflaged to the ocean bed, where they mostly tend to hang out. Be careful if you do spot one, they may look funny but they have two spines on each of their pectoral fins that pack a poisonous punch if you fuss with them. They can also produce electricity! If you get too close you may just get a nip of an electric shock!
The stargazer is actually infamous for it's attacks, particularly during night dives. They can expel up to 50 volts of electricity to shock unsuspecting divers passing by. The stargazer is not an overly aggressive fish. They will only attack if they are disturbed or fussed.
Stargazers use their burying technique to catch their dinner. Unsuspecting prey will swim by and the stargazer will jump out from it's hiding place to grab hold of it's next meal. They also have an appendage on the end of their lower lip that looks much like a worm. The stargazer uses this to tempt fish towards it's mouth, they then create a vacuum inside their mouth causing the tricked fish to be sucked into the mouth. They have also been known to use their electric shock capabilities to stun their prey, making it easier to catch.
This camera man got an unlucky surprise, although he managed to get it on camera, so maybe not so unlucky!