Meet the Sarcastic Fringehead

Yes, that is the real name of a real fish.

Written By
Erin Spencer

The ocean is full of critters with, shall we say, unusual names. Just take the flamboyant cuttlefish, the blobfish and the frogfish (to name a few). But there is one, lesser-known marine species that might take the prize for the strangest moniker.

Folks, meet the sarcastic fringehead.

Where did this colorful title come from, you might ask? While “sarcastic” is often used to describe one’s humor, the word originates from the Greek sarkasmós, which means to bite or tear. The first part of the name refers to the sarcastic fringehead’s series of needle-sharp teeth that it uses to bite into its prey (although maybe it has a biting sense of humor too, who knows?) “Fringehead” comes from the soft appendages that rise above its head. Together, they make one of the weirdest names in the ocean (whoever named this guy must have had fun).

A type of blenny, the sarcastic fringehead is recognizable by its brown-grey coloring with patches of red or green. They have disproportionally large heads and jaws and long, slender bodies. Although they can grow to about a foot in length, they average around 3-8 inches.

The sarcastic fringehead (Neoclinus blanchardi) is native to the eastern Pacific and prefers to hide in shells and other crevices along the soft, muddy bottom. They’ve even been known to stay in bottles or cans in more polluted areas. It will seek an appropriately-sized hiding place for its body then lie in wait for unsuspecting prey to swim or walk by. They are known to be incredibly territorial, and will attack anyone, including other fringeheads or even scuba divers, who dare to threaten them.

To defend its territory, the sarcastic fringehead opens its enormous mouth to intimidate its foe. They have specially-designed jaws that fan out to the side (reminiscent of the cockroach alien from Men in Black) which makes them appear larger and more intimidating. If the challenger is another sarcastic fringehead, the two will “kiss” by aggressively pressing their open mouths against each other until one finally gives up and swims away.

This competitiveness is amplified during mating season. Males compete against each other for the attention of females, who will choose the most appealing mate and lay her eggs in the male’s burrow. The male is charged with protecting the tiny eggs from predators and other threats until they hatch. Then, the 3mm-long offspring will emerge and swim off!

The sarcastic fringehead may not be the fastest, biggest or cutest fish in the sea, but it deserves recognition for its aggressive demeanor and accompanying name. If you’re lucky enough to see one in the wild, just make sure you keep your distance! I mean, who would want to be on the other side of that guy in a fight?!

“It’s okay if you don’t like me. Not everyone has good taste.” — A sarcastic fringehead, probably. 

Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
Read more
View Current Posts
Back to Top Up Arrow