If you have visited us at Atmosphere or been to our facebook page then you already know one thing – I am beyond obsessed with frogfish, which you can read more about here in my blog about frogfish from last year. The reason I am writing about frogfish again is because right now is my favorite time of year – baby frogfish season! Starting around January until around May, baby frogfish start turning up everywhere. Right now, nearly every dive site has a baby frogfish, even on our house reef. Last month on one day we saw sixteen baby frogfish (yes, you read that correctly, sixteen) on one dive! We routinely see between eight and twelve baby frogfish at this dive site, with new ones showing up every day. In the past week we have seen 7 species of baby frogfish in Dauin – giant, painted, clown, hairy, randall’s, ocellated, and a rare sargassumfish.
When frogfish mate, most species let the eggs drift away in a little gelatinous raft that floats in the ocean currents for a month or two. When the baby frogfish have developed enough, they drop down to the seafloor and start their lives as mini-adults, already knowing how to fish with their lures. Many divers will agree – there are very few critters that are as cute as a baby frogfish! Guests always wonder how we can find these 5-10 mm babies, but there are two simple answers. First answer – luck. You can be swimming over the sand and see a bright yellow pebble that seems to be moving or a bright red dot that has legs right below you, sometimes it’s all about being at the right place at the right time. The second answer – practice. Our dive masters (and myself, on a good day) can look at a stretch of sand and see a baby frogfish, even from meters away.
It is very easy to find the habitat of a baby frogfish – you just look in the sand! Most of our babies are found between 3 and 15 meters, with a special stretch of sand on our house reef between 4 and 6 meters where they can be found hiding in the small seagrass. Babies are found out in the open because they are not developed enough to camouflage with their surroundings, like having time to grow a layer of encrusting algae. Instead, they mimic poisonous nudibranchs and flatworms so that predators won’t want to eat them while they figure out how to navigate the treacherous ocean (for a baby frogfish that is). Some mimic dead corals or small sea urchins – these are white with small polka dots or markings. Some are bright colors which, in the ocean, means that they are probably dangerous to eat. My favorite babies choose a unique pattern – black body, orange polka-dots, and a light blue outline (they also appear to have killer manicures). This color pattern mimics one species of flatworm and, although one of the funkiest looking critters you will see in Dauin, is actually one of the best forms of mimicry.
Next time you are diving in the Indo-Pacific, whether you are in the Philippines or another location, keep an eye out on those safety stops for baby frogfish. Investigate every hunch – look at that pebble that has a weird shape or that bright dot in the middle of the dark sand – you never know which will be an adorable baby frogfish!
Your Marine biologist /Daniel