Chomp. In the time that it took to read that single word – about six milliseconds – an unsuspecting fish or crustacean could have been snatched up by a frogfish. Their bite is one of the fastest movements made by any animal, an ironic feat considering they’re tremendously slow and can move only short distances at a time.
The secret to their success is their mastery of disguise and deceit. Each of the 48 known frogfish species has a unique and unusual shape, colour and texture to enable them to blend into their surroundings, making them almost invisible to potential predators and prey.
While some resemble stones, coral or sponges, others are covered with algae or change their colour to adapt to the environment. If they’re spotted, frogfish are able to defend themselves by sucking in water to puff up their bodies, making them hard to swallow.
When it comes to grabbing a meal, frogfish don’t use only their expert camouflage to ambush prey, but actively lure their victims. One of its dorsal spines has evolved into a rod (illicium) with bait (esca) that looks like a small fish, shrimp or worm. This is dangled, flicked and moved around in front of its head either to entice bottom dwellers out of their holes or to attract fish closer. The frogfish will also slowly creep into position and prepare for a blitz attack. In a fraction of a second, the deceived predator quickly becomes prey.
The frogfish expands its jaws to increase the volume of its mouth cavity up to 12 times – that’s the equivalent of trying to squeeze a football into your mouth. While the victim is swallowed, the oesophagus is closed with a special muscle to prevent it from escaping. Frogfish can also expand their stomachs to gulp down animals up to twice their size.
Chomp. There goes another.