Floating around deep-sea rocks like a watery version of French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse’s red balloon, this bulbous, brightly colored anglerfish was recorded by a remotely operated submarine camera off of California’s Central Coast in 2010.
While scientists have observed other species of anglerfish in the wild before, this particular species—Chaunacops coloratus—wasn't documented alive until 2002, explained Lonny Lundsten, a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).
The 2002 sighting was of a single fish found near a seamount, or extinct volcano, about 80 miles southwest of Monterey. In 2010 an expedition to the nearby Taney Seamounts found six more—enough to support a proper investigation of the species.
In a new study—published in the journal Deep-Sea Research Part I—Lundsten and his colleagues describe the first observations of the rare fish in its natural habitat. C. coloratus, which can “walk” and changes color throughout its life, was found nearly 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) below the surface.
Image courtesy MBARI
Red Fish, Blue Fish
The first live observations of anglerfish in their natural habitat revealed that not all of them are red or rose-colored, as previously thought.
"One of the things we noticed right off the bat is all the larger ones are red and the smaller ones tend to be blue," MBARI's Lundsten said. "So we think ... that it's changing color, from a bluish-transparent larval phase to a red adult form."
The largest specimen that Lundsten's team observed was about 8 inches (20 centimeters) long, while the smallest was about 3 inches (7 centimeters) long.
The purplish color of the anglerfish pictured above suggests it is an adolescent, Lundsten added.
Another surprise from the imagery Lundsten's team collected: The fish appear able to "walk" along the seafloor using a combination of their pectoral fins and pelvic fins.
Scientists speculate that “walking” is more energy efficient than swimming short distances, and that it also disturbs the surrounding seawater less, reducing the chances of startling nearby prey.