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October 26, 2001

Frogs With Three Eyes

The ocellated frogfish hunts prey with a lure of its own.

Q: I caught this fish off North Carolina during the early spring while bottom fishing in 110 feet of water. We caught two on separate trips. Can you identify it and tell me its range and whether it is edible? - Anthony Ng, Robersonville, North Carolina

A: Sure - it's an ocellated frogfish, Antennarius ocellatus. Ocelli are dark, eye-like spots, of which this species has three, one on the dorsal fin, one on the tail fin and one midside. Small, globular fishes with stalked, grasping pectoral fins, frogfishes lurk on the bottom and lure prey close to their mouths with a "fishing lure" on the snout. This lure, a stalked, fleshy growth ending in a bulb-shaped blob with many filaments, attracts smaller fish just like bait on a fishing pole. Frogfishes have big, trap-door mouths pointing upward to suck in anything that comes close to the lure. They use their small, forward-placed pelvic fins for "walking" along the bottom. Modified scales make their skin rough like sandpaper.
Frogfishes rest on the bottom in warm, shallow waters where they can use their camouflage and lure to attract small fish and crustaceans. Of the 50 to 60 species of frogfishes worldwide, six are found off the East Coast of the U.S.
The ocellated frogfish lives in both the eastern and western Atlantic, ranging from North Carolina to South America, and grows to about 15 inches long. Though not inedible, it's not generally fished for food.