Sunday 10 May 2015

What's up with all these pigfish?

Image: Kevin Bryant
Are pigs and fish natural bedfellows? I never thought so. I always imagined them in separate beds, separate rooms, separate homes and quite possibly separate landmasses. Like a proper, aristocratic marriage. Except one of them wouldn't be on a landmass. So... some kind of mer-people thing, I guess? Or dolphins. I bet loads of people have married dolphins by now.

It seems not everyone agrees about the merging of pig and fish. Apparently, some people see a fish and immediately think pig. We learned about the Hogfish before. They were those members of the wrasse family who used their elongated snouts to snuffle through the sea floor, searching for snails, crabs and other shelled creatures to crack open with their canine teeth.

As it turns out, this particular species of Hogfish is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the meeting of the porcine and the piscine.

Image: zsispeo
Lyretail Hogfish (Bodianus anthioides)
Bodianus is an entire genus of wrasses containing almost 50 species, just about all of which are called Something Hogfish or Something Pigfish. Except one which is called the Foxfish, but that's a whole other story...

Like other wrasses, the Hogfish of Bodianus are of modest size. The Giant Hogfish may reach over 60 cm (two feet) long but most others are less than half that. However, they're not in the least bit modest in appearance. These Hogfish are almost all ludicrously colourful and often clad in all manner of stripes or spots.

Image: Derek Keats
Mexican Hogfish (Bodianus diplotaenia)
Even the comparatively drab Mexican Hogfish is adorned with streaming fins and a big lump on its forehead. A decorative lump, of course.

Members of Bodianus can be found all over the tropical and subtropical world, often near coral reefs. Thus, the "pigfish" phenomenon has immediately gone global. It isn't restricted to members of the wrasse family, either...

Image: Robertson & Van Tassell D. & J.
Orthopristis chrysoptera
This is probably the most pedestrian of all our porcine fish. It reaches about 30 cm (1 foot) long and is found along the eastern coast of North America, from New York all the way down to Mexico.

This is certainly no wrasse. They belong to the family Haemulidae, the grunts. They get their name for the grunting sound they make when they're agitated. They do it with great gnashing of teeth. Like many other fish they have pharyngeal teeth in their throat. Grunts grind them against each other when they want to curse the world.

Image: Citron
Capros aper
This little cutie comes from the eastern Atlantic area, from Norway down to the Mediterranean, thus bringing pigfishery to colder waters. Also deeper waters, since they can be found at depths between 40 and a whopping 700 metres (130 to 2,300 ft).

The ones that stick to the deeper, darker depths tend to be more red or orange than the pale, yellowish colours of their shallow-water kin. Either way, they have big eyes and a long snout with a mouth that can shoot forward into a tube shape to suck up shrimp or worms.

Their scientific name Capros aper comes from the Greek for "boar" and the Latin for "boar", so I guess it translates to something like "seriously boar". They also lend that name to their entire family, Caproidae, and that gives us another 16 species of fish called things like Deepbody Boarfish and Rhomboidal Boarfish.

Where next will pigfish kind strike?

Image: Brian Gratwicke
Congiopodus leucopaecilus
Southern Pigfish
On the other side of the world, this lazybones spends most of his time resting on the sea floor near southern Australia and New Zealand. They reach a little over 30 cm (a foot) in length and have a long snout which they use to pluck worms and crabs from rocky crevices, seaweed and the sand around them.

It isn't necessarily obvious at first glance but this is actually a member of the order Scorpaeniformes, which also includes such gaping maws as Lionfish, Stonefish and others who prefer to use their massive mouths to catch prey that just barely fits. This Pigfish deploys a method more akin to the Grunt Sculpin, it nibbles on little things rather than gulping down big things.

The Southern Pigfish belongs to the genus Congiopodus, which contains five other species. One of them is called the Deepwater Pigfish but the others are called Horsefish. HORSES, now. And you know, what? I'd expect something called a Pigfish and something called a Spinenose Horsefish to look a lot more different from each than they in fact do.

Video: Brett Vercoe
Pentaceropsis recurvirostris

Longsnout Boarfish
Sometimes a rectangle's gotta do what a rectangle's gotta do.

In this case a rectangle had to acquire stripes, a tail, a mouth and bunch of spikes. So it did. It now resides along the southern coast of Australia where it uses its long snout and small mouth to munch on worms and brittle stars.

These 70 cm (2.3 ft) long fish are completely different from our previous, wide-eyed Boarfish. They belong to a separate family, Pentacerotidae, also known as Armorheads.

Image: Richard Ling
Giant Boarfish (Paristiopterus labiosus)
The armour in question is the visible bones in their head, not to mention the spines in their dorsal fin. That flamboyant dorsal fin is spiky in more ways than one.

The Armorhead family contains 13 species, most of which have Boarfish in their name. The metre (3.3 ft) long Giant Boarfish is among the biggest.

Video: Dive This Australia Film
Short Boarfish (Parazanclistius hutchinsi)

The Short Boarfish is about 30 cm (a foot) long. I guess it's quite short compared to some of the others but, looking at it, that hardly seems the point, does it?

Image: Kevin Bryant
Anisotremus virginicus
Cruel name. Cruel, cruel name.

Did you hear about how William the Bastard became William the Conqueror after the Norman conquest of England? And how the Norman-French speaking Normans became the new landowners and aristocracy and how they lorded it over the Anglo-Saxon natives? And how the Anglo-Saxon peasants tended to what they, in their language, called cows, sheep and pigs, while the lords ate what they called buef, moton and porc? And that's where beef, mutton and pork comes from?

That William the Bastard... What a bastard! Pardon my French. Or do I mean Anglo-Saxon?

Which is all to say that these poor Porkfish aren't named after pigs, they're named after dinner. Even worse, they're grunts, just like that plain, pedestrian Pigfish. Only they're more pretty. They reach around 30 cm (a foot) long and are found around Florida and the Caribbean.

Perhaps they should gnash those teeth a little more so they won't be named after chops.

It may be photoshopped, but there's a deep and enduring truth to this image.


TexWisGirl said...

haha. :) they're all quite pretty.

Lear's Fool said...

Team invertebrate is really kicking butt on the whole 'pig emulation' bit, isn't it?

The fish just aren't representing us well.

Porakiya said...

Let's see now: horse fish, sea horse, hog and pigfish, cow fish, and goose clams....anything else that I'm missing for my underwater/deepsea farm?

Crunchy said...

Chicken of the sea? dogs?

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: Awwww... sweet of you to say so!

@Lear's Fool: Sheer complacency!

@Porakiya Draekojin: Hen fish! Sea potatoes! Seaweed? Also cow sharks can come along and eat most of the others.

@Crunchy: Are there mermaid farmers, perhaps? Old McMermaid.

BK said...

Look up crocodilefish. It isn't made up.

Joseph JG said...

Ah, yes! Another one of those crazy scorpaeniforms!