With a bulbous body and spiky scales, a shaggy lure dangling from its head, and foot-like fins that it uses to walk along the seafloor, the deep-sea anglerfish Chaunacops coloratus has been filmed for the first time by researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).
The anglerfish was first described from a single specimen collected off the coast of Panama in 1891. However, for over 100 years, marine researchers collected deep-sea fish using trawl nets and dredges, so this anglerfish was never seen alive.
That changed in 2002, when researchers used the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Tiburon to explore Davidson Seamount – an extinct volcano off the coast of Central California. When the researchers first spotted this fish on video from the ROV, they weren’t exactly sure what kind of fish it was.
Then, in 2010, the researchers observed six more of these unique fish during ROV dives at Taney Seamounts, another set of extinct volcanoes off the California coast. This time, the scientists noted that the red fish were larger and more mature, while the blue fish were younger and smaller. From these observations, they inferred that this fish likely begins its life in a transparent larval form, turns blue as a juvenile, and turns red at adulthood.
One of the remarkable traits of all anglerfish is their ability to attract prey using parts of their bodies that function as lures. During one ROV dive, the researchers observed C. coloratus deploying a shaggy, mop-like lure, called an esca, which it dangled from the end of a modified fin near the top of its head. After an unsuccessful attempt at attracting prey, the anglerfish then stowed its fishing gear away in a special cavity located between its eyes.