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Freeze frame. (Science News).

With its Pinocchio-like snout, scruffy white whiskers, and Arrest-Me Red lips, this rosy-lipped batfish couldn't look more bizarre. "Well, it would probably say the same thing about you and me," says ichthyologist (fish scientist) and batfish enthusiast John McCosker at the California Academy of Sciences. Despite its glamorous red pucker, the batfish's appearance probably has more to do with underwater survival than vanity, McCosker explains.

To outwit hungry predators, for example, the hand-size fish hunkers down on the ocean floor, looking more like an algae-covered rock than a tasty meal. As for those loud lips, they hide beneath a noselike clump of scales called a rostrum. To ensnare meals, the batfish "has the most remarkable lure-like appendage in its forehead, just below the rostrum," says McCosker. It attracts dinner--shrimp, for example--by wiggling the tiny lure. At the approach of an edible sea creature, the batfish pushes off with leglike pectoral fins and sucks up its supper.

So how do fire-engine red lips aid batfish survival? "It probably has something to do with species recognition," McCosker explains. Rosy-lipped batfish usually dwell about 31 meters (125 feet) below the ocean's surface, a depth impenetrable to red light, making its bright lips less obvious. But the batfish may squirm (it's a notoriously poor swimmer) into shallower water to breed. There, it's light enough for red lips to be visible. The sea creature then lifts its rostrum and "exposes its lips to say, `I'm a batfish. Interested?'" says McCosker.

You might not be, but John McCosker is: He once licked a batfish to see if its skin possessed defensive chemicals that might repulse predators. "It felt slimy and a bit warty, but it wasn't distasteful." A date, anyone?
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Author:Dyer, Nicole
Publication:Science World
Date:Oct 18, 2002
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