January 28, 2018
Many people are already familiar with the incredible ability for octopus and squid to change their color, shape and even texture to blend in with the environment. Similarly, there are many underwater critters that blend easily blend into their environment. But they don’t change – they are born that way. Like cephalopods, these critters blend into the background to avoid being seen by predators or by prey or both. Many of these critters can be found in surroundings that help them to be “invisible”. Others, like the Stonefish, Frogfish, and Flounder disappear in plain sight by appearing like a rock, sponge or even the sandy ocean floor.
Leaf scorpion fish can appear like a sea plant gently swaying with the current. Some species stand out more than others, given their bright color. I spotted a stunning Leaf Scorpionfish on a night dive that was a light crimson color, however the dude did not want to be photographed. He slowly turned repositioned himself, so eventually all I could capture was a glorious crimson fish butt.
Ornate Ghost Pipefish, which look similar to a seahorse, will swim vertically in order to be mistaken for soft corals or crinoids. At birth, the juvenile pipefish are transparent, but as they mature, they will take on the color and texture of their surroundings. I know I bring this up quite a bit, but our dive guides were amazing. Thanks to their great spotting abilities and knowledge of the dive sites, David and I were fortunate to see multiple species of pipefish during our dives at Wakatobi. On our last night dive, our guide located a family of pipefish – and to my amazement there were at least seven pipefish swimming in and around a large crinoid. With so many pipefish to choose from, it was hard to decide which one to photograph. Fortunately, the Pipefish rely on camouflage as a defense, therefore they don’t move much. This gave me plenty of time to photograph the entire Pipefish family, including individual photos and a family portrait.
In addition to Pipefish, another fun group of critters to photograph is the Frogfish. Like the Pipefish, there is a variety of Frogfish and they come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and textures. These are the type of critters that I categorize as “so ugly they are cute”. In Wakatobi, the best place to see Frogfish is on the muck dives. And on this trip, there was no shortage of Frogfish. At Asphalt Pier, which is a phenomenal muck dive site, we saw the grandfather of all Frogfish. It was perched on one of the pillars, approximately 10 feet below the surface. And it was huge (as Frogfish go). They say everything looks bigger underwater, but I’d still estimate Grandfather was at least 14-16 inches whereas your typical frogfish averages 4-6 inches. Even though it was so large, Grandfather matched his environment exactly – there is no way I would have spotted him unless someone pointed him out. And even now, when I look at my photos, he is barely discernable. His color and textured skin blend perfectly with the crustaceans and algae attached to the pier. I hope to see Grandfather again when we return to Wakatobi (and we will be returning).
A not-so-cute, but still a master of concealment, is the Scorpionfish. While these fish are not aggressive, they do have a venomous spine on their dorsal fin which can inflict extreme pain to a careless diver should they should accidentally step on or grab the fish by mistake (which is a good reason never to touch anything underwater). Some of the Scorpionfish are relatively easy to spot, however many blend easily into the environment and are nearly impossible to see. You can usually spot a Scorpionfish by its eyes, and from there you can make out a mouth. Once you know you are looking at a fish, you can usually distinguish the fish from the surroundings. Like the Frogfish, the Scorpionfish typically sit very still waiting for their prey to come within reach – which makes the Scorpionfish a great subject for photos.
So given their variety, color, texture and tendency to “stay put” these creatures of camouflage make great subjects for underwater photography – when you can see them.