Friday, June 21, 2013

A wandering eye and a long nose

Too many fish! BC has over 400 marine species of fish. Some are well known, and easy to identify. Many, far too many, are small, elusive, camouflaged, and, it seems, too "unimportant" enough to invest in tracking them down.

I've looked at photos of hundreds of West Coast fish, trying to find one small, shy fish, with no luck. I need help!

Here he is:

Long-nosed minnow, thinking two blades of eelgrass can hide him.

There were many of these out near the low tide line in Boundary Bay, swimming about in a few inches of water. They don't act like the sculpins, dashing here and there, then settling into the sand. These stay perfectly still until I get too close, then speed away in a straight line. A short burst of speed; as soon as they reach any shelter, they stop dead, floating just above the sand.

This one, about 3 inches long, hid under the seaweed. When the current swept it away, he played dead, barely moving his side fins to stay in place.

What intrigued me is his unusual face; a long, flat, triangular nose, with a tiny mouth. He seems to be one of the poacher fish family, maybe. The side (pectoral) fins are bigger than the dorsal (back) fins, the body is long and thin. But I can't find any just like him.

I had better luck with the other fish we found. This one was recently dead, but still in good shape.

Starry flounder, Platichthys stellatus

This is one of the "right sided" flatfish. It started out life with one eye on each side of the head, like most of the fish we know. As it matured, it flopped over, to spend its life lying on the left side. An eye looking down into the sand is useless; it turned itself around, and migrated to the top side.

Lopsided face. The mouth lies at right angles to the ground, the eyes more or less parallel. They don't quite line up evenly; the wandering eye had to force its way around the bony structures already in place.

Other flatfish lie on their right side, with both eyes on the left side. Whatever works.

The bottom, or left side. The young fish, still upright, are coloured on both sides, but when they flop over, the new bottom turns white. (Colour is expensive, maybe?)

You can see where the eye used to be. I found a short video that shows how the eye migrates up and over the top of the head, to end up beside the other one.

WANDERING EYES from Science News on Vimeo.

Starry flounders become sexually mature at age 2 at a total length of around 35 cm. (About 14 inches) (U. of California)
This one was about 8 to 10 inches long, so it was still a young one.

We left him for gull food. If they hurried; otherwise the tide would cover it, and then it would be crab food.


  1. So many amazing critters. Wandering Eye - now that is really something!

  2. My guess at the fish is a three-spined has the general shape of one when looking from the top. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable will correct me.

  3. Tim, that was my first thought, but the nose is too long and flat, the mouth too pursed. And I couldn't find the spines.
    See the one I had in hand before:
    Three spined stickleback

  4. I'm planning on returning to Boundary Bay tomorrow...I'll keep my eye out for the mystery fish!

  5. Head for the border tower in the middle of the bay. They were all over around where the eelgrass starts.


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