This colony of red fish, complete with hands, fits right into the world of cryptozoology. It sure doesn’t look real and it is rare. Not many people have seen them, and they are extraordinarily made. Let me introduce you to this latest “monster” from the briny – the walking fish.
It wriggles across the sandy, narrow bottom of an oceanic reef, hands pushing it forward while a fiery red mohawk atop its head waves in the current. Its scowl tells us that it thinks it is the baddest mamba jamba of all, but at around 5 inches (12 cm) long, it’s not all that scary.
The creature is a red-handed fish, Thymichthys politus, which is classified as extremely endangered by scientists today. Prior to this find, scientists had only known of one population of these handsy fish that live off the southeast corner of Tasmania in Frederick Henry Bay. There are about 40 of the red-handed fish living there.
Antonia Cooper, of the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and Reel Life Survey (RLS) program, headed the research team looking for this new population. Finding this new population just a few miles from the original has nearly doubled the known population of these extraordinary fish.
Rick Stuart-Smith, also a scientist with IMAS and a co-founder of the RLS, said in a video, “That second population’s just a huge relief. It effectively doubles how many we think there are left on the planet. But it also gives us hope that there may be other populations out there.”
These fierce looking little beasties use what are actually hand-shaped fins, not hands, to crawl across the seafloor. They eat small crustaceans and worms and grow an average length of 5 inches. The scientists tell us that there are two color variations, one all red and the other, a variety of colors with red embellishments.
These fish are covered with small, neatly grouped, flattened warts. Their scales and spines are “fully embedded” in their skin.
When they were first discovered in the 1800s, they were named Brachionichthys politus, but with this latest find, they were all renamed T. politus. (Wiki’s article still has the old classification listed.)
Stuart-Smith was also quoted as saying, “We’ve already learned a lot from finding this second population because their habitat isn’t identical to that of the first population. So, we can take some heart from knowing red handfish are not as critically dependent on that particular set of local conditions.”
Stuart-Smith explained that they’re still worried about the red handfish’s rate of reproduction. They reproduce by depositing their eggs at the bottom of pieces of seaweed. This makes them susceptible to damage from passing swimmers and boat traffic. Another report said that red handfish will also lay its eggs on patches of green algae. However, in recent years, a native Tasmanian urchin (Heliocidaris erythrogramma) has been eating up all the green algae making things difficult for the red handfish.
They’ve also been poached for the aquarium trade, so their outlook is of grave concern to scientists.
There are several species of handfish, including the Ziebell’s handfish. This fish hasn’t been seen in the wild for a long time so the scientists fear it may be extinct now. Another variety, the spotted handfish are still present around Hobart.
Australia’s Department of Environment and Heritage believes there are 14 known species of handfish, but they don’t know much more than that. Their biology and behavior are still a mystery.
Check out the short video from National Geographic:
According to Wiki, T. politus is in the same family as anglerfish. The red handfish also have an illicium above its mouth but it is very short and doesn’t seem to be used in attracting prey into its gaping jaws. (An illicium is a “modified dorsal fin.”)
Well, with a scowl like that, they still look like a fierce little cryptid ready to scare away any interlopers trying to invade its corner of the reef. Here’s hoping they survive!
So, what do you think of the red handfish?