|Image: John Turnbull|
But to walk on his hands, too? I don't even walk on my hands! And I'm supposed to have hands.
|Image: John Turnbull|
They're certainly a lot cuter than most of their relatives. Handfish are a family of anglerfish, related to ogrish Monkfish, cute-but-infuriated Frogfish and all those devilish Deep Sea Anglers.
|Image: Karen Gowlett-Holmes|
Until recently there were just four described species of Handfish spread across two genera. They're all a little more or little less than 10 cm (4 in) long and, unlike a lot of anglerfish, they actually enjoy a diet that befits their size. A 10 cm Frogfish, for example, would gladly eat something about, say, 10 cm long (show one a mirror and it'll probably try and eat itself), and don't even talk about those Deep Sea guys. Handfish on the other, er, hand, prefer to nibble on small fish, worms and crustaceans that don't require an elasticated stomach to keep down.
|Image: Rick Stuart-Smith / Reef Life Survey|
That's very specific, indeed. It wasn't always known that the Spotted Handfish had such a tiny distribution. It was once thought to be quite widespread along the southern and eastern coasts of Australia but then, in 2007, they discovered that the Spotted Handfish wasn't a Handfish at all. There were two of them!
|Image: Barry Bruce, CSIRO|
As it turns out, there's a HUGE amount that is completely unknown about Handfish, a lot of research that hasn't been done. People knew for a long time that there were more than four or five species, it's just that no-one had formally described any of the others.
|Image: Andrew Maver|
Tasmania remains Handfish Central, with all but three of the new species living off that island's coast. As you can see, Handfish are real homebodies. They have their base of operations and they seem quite content to stay put. I suppose that makes sense if you're a fish who walks on your hands and doesn't like to swim.
But there's something else. Something that Frogfish have which Handfish don't. Something that even starfish and oysters have which Handfish don't. And that's a planktonic stage.
Spending a bit of time as a tiny speck of plankton adrift on the current is a fantastic way of getting around. Maybe someone should have told the Handfish? While we can't say for sure with all species, we do know that the drifter's life is completely foreign to the Spotted Handfish.
|Image: Mark Green, CSIRO Marine Research.|
The female lays about 80 to 250 eggs, which is basically nothing compared to Frogfish who can lay more than 100,000. She guards them for seven or eight weeks before they hatch and lots of tiny miniature Handfish emerge. They're about 6 or 7 mm long, which is certainly very small, but it's a lot bigger than a newly hatched Frogfish who might be closer to 0.5 mm.
|Image: Craig Macaulay/CSIRO Marine Research|
This inability to get around means that Handfish populations have been particularly hard hit by pollution, trawling and dredging. Conservation efforts are on-going and we can only hope they'll be successful. It's likely there are even more species out there, as yet undiscovered, and who knows? Perhaps one day they'll grow feet?