Fish ID :: Batfish

Batfish Anatomy

If you’re American, you might know these guys as spadefish. Outside the US, they’re more commonly called batfish. Both names come from their shape – one based on the adults and one on the juveniles (more on that in a moment).

Whichever name you choose to call them, they are some of the most easily identifiable and well-loved fish on the reef. They’re very friendly, curious creatures and have been known to play in divers’ bubbles, nibble their hair and follow them for long stretches (particularly if they’re wearing yellow fins).

batfish with measures

Batfish undergo quite a dramatic transformation from their juvenile to adult forms.  Initially, they resemble the silhouette of a bat, with only the faintest orange or red outline to prevent them from blending into the shadows entirely. This dramatic shape occurs because of the way they mature. Their fins grow first, nearly reaching their adult size before their body grows to match. Throughout this process, their colours also lighten and the lighter grey stripes emerge. The Batavia (or zebra) batfish below, with its bold stripes and delicate fins, provides a stunning exception to the juvenile batfish silhouette.

batavia batfish 2

One species of batfish may become a global hero in the years to come. When reefs are overfished, the natural maintenance provided by algae-eaters (like parrotfish and surgeonfish) declines or disappears entirely. A reef that is choked with algae cannot live long as the coral quickly suffocates. Coral provides the foundation of the ecosystem, so without it, the reef is doomed. This is currently happening in large patches of the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers have found, however, that batfish can consume incredible quantities of algae, cleaning the reef and giving the coral (and therefore the entire ecosystem) a much-need chance to recover.

Quiz Time!

And now it’s time for your first quiz! You’ve officially met three new fish: angelfish, butterflyfish and batfish. Let’s see if you can identify them. Answers in brackets under the surgeonfish caption below {highlight to reveal}.

fish quiz
dot line divider

surgeonfish hello
{1: angelfish, 2: butterflyfish, 3: batfish, 4: batfish, 5: butterflyfish, 6: angelfish, 7: angelfish, 8: batfish, 9: angelfish}
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