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Why Do Red-Lipped Batfish Have Red Lips?

And other things you need to know about this unusual fish

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© Vlad Karpinsky

In the cool waters of the Galapagos Islands lies an unusual fish. With its frog-like “legs”, lipstick-red pout and dangling lure, the red-lipped batfish is truly unlike any other fish in the sea. Those lucky enough to have seen it in person can confirm: the red-lipped batfish is one of a kind.

So, what’s the deal with this fashionable fish? Read on to find out everything you need to know.

They’re only found in once place in the world.

You’ll have to travel to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean to see the red-lipped batfish for yourself. It’s one of many species that are endemic to the Galapagos (meaning they’re found nowhere else), including the marine iguana, giant tortoise and Galapagos penguin. In fact, its scientific name, Ogcocephalus darwini, is inspired by the famous scientist Charles Darwin who derived his theory of evolution from his work in the Galapagos.

Red lipped batfish are typically found at depths of about 30 to 60 feet, but can be found in deeper waters up to 400 feet. They prefer to hang out in sandy or rocky bottoms that help them blend into the sea floor.

They have fins that let them “walk” on the seafloor.

The red-lipped batfish is one of about 60 species of batfish that have modified pectoral and pelvic fins that resemble legs. Although they’re capable of swimming, you’re likely to find them walking on the sea floor by alternating their limb-like fins. It’s hard to describe (here’s a video so you can see for yourself) but it kind of looks like a walking frog. If the fish decides to swim, it can tuck its pectoral fins underneath its body and move its tail and pelvic fish back and forth to power forward. It’s about as awkward-looking as it sounds!

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© Rein Ketelaars

They have a way to lure in their prey.

The red-lipped batfish is one of many fish in the order Lophiiformes, also known as anglerfish. Anglerfish are known for their unusual appendages on their heads called illiciums that lure in prey. Red-lipped batfish are no exception! They have a fleshy modified dorsal fin that can be extended and retracted to lure in their prey. The lure attracts small fish, shrimp and crabs to the fish. This is helpful, as the batfish’s awkward swimming style doesn’t make it easy for it to chase down prey.

Scientist’s aren’t totally sure why they have their signature red mouth.  

The red-lipped batfish’s most iconic feature is also its namesake. Some scientists think their luscious lips help attract mates, but more research is needed to be sure.

Fun fact—they’re not the only species of batfish that sports a red pout! The closely-related rosy-lipped batfish (Ogcocephalus porrectus) is found in the waters of Cocos Island off of Costa Rica.

Looking for more weird and wonderful fish in your life? Learn about the sarcastic fringehead, frogfish or gulper eels!

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