Fish of the Month: What? Fish

This month’s fish of the month is Pataecus fronto, commonly called the Red Indian Fish.

I was so excited to finally see this fish! Many thanks to my dive buddy Mandy for spotting it! This is an Austrlian subtropical & temperate east coast endemic, meaning that it does not occur anywhere else, in fact the whole family, the prowlfishes (Pataecidae) are restricted to Australia.

Pacificklaus Photography

Red Indian fish, Bare Island, Sydney.

I have never seen a more passive fish, even with two underwater photographers really close to it, it didn’t even flinch. Rather, it swayed back and forth in the surge like a dead leaf, stuck next to a finger-sponge. And that’s also how it looks, like a big leaf or sheet-like sponge. Another example how behavior has primacy in evolution, the perfectly camouflaged body only works with a matched behavioral repertoire. A fast swimming, active fish would never have gained any advantage from such an unusual body form, and hence how the fish behaved paved the way for the evolution of its body.

Why is this fish called Red Indian fish, you may ask? It’s because the dorsal fin looks like the head decoration of a native American chief. Now, it’s of course totally un-PC to call the fish “Red Indian” fish, so I suggest “Native American Elder with Ceremonial Head Decoration Fish”. However, since that’s confusing, since it is an Australian fish (and there are really few native Americans in Oz), that does not work too well. So, how about Heroin-nod-off fish, in recognition of the fish’s extremely passive demeanor? No, that would probably somewhat condone the use of this dangerous opiate, so we will have to go with “What?” fish for now.