Revenge of the Frogfish

Painted frogfish, Antennarius pictus and Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Revenge of the Frogfish 1The principal of this piece is the most photographed frogfish living in the land of frogfish—Lembeh Strait, Indonesia. She’s a large, pregnant Painted Frogfish, the size of a grapefruit, that happens to be white—an unusual and conspicuous coloring for a typically unobtrusive lie-in-wait predator. Making the reluctant luminary even more obvious, she picked a perch high on the mooring line where everybody in the Strait with a camera can easily find her. Adding a splendid touch to the already remarkable photo op, a trio of Ornate Ghost Pipefish—icons of fish watchers—selected the same site to hang out. During their rounds the trio would occasionally drift past the stationary frogfish as a close-knit group, placing four celebrated animals in the same frame. I took a respectable portrait of the group during my first visit, but realizing the rarity of such an improbable mixture of nature I decided to return the following day to see if I could get a better shot.

All my life I’ve been hearing how unscientific it is to attribute human traits, intentions and emotions to animals. There is even a word for it: anthropomorphism. But the longer I observe animals in the wild the more aware I become of the uncanny and pervasive similarities between human and animal behavior. A case in point: by my second visit the popular Painted Frogfish of Lembeh must have had her fill of non-stop strobe lights flashing in her face and wasn’t going to take it anymore. But other than moving, what could she do?

Painted frogfish, Antennarius pictus, Revenge of the Frogfish 2

As I approach, the Ornates just happen to be positioned near the disgruntled Queen of Lembeh so I quickly settle on the sand next to the mooring block and snap away. Just as the participants align, her majesty begins to turn her bloated, egg-filled body around in a slow and inelegant frogfish fashion. The Ornates, sensing something I failed to pick up on, flee just before I receive a royal in-your-facemask dump.

Painted frogfish, Antennarius pictus poop, Revenge of the Frogfish 3