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  • [♪ INTRO]

  • When we think about the residents of our oceans, lakes, and rivers, we often focus on beautiful ones.

  • Like, colorful angelfish.

  • Or the invasive but stunning lionfish.

  • But, what about the fish that are a bit, well, homely?

  • Things like blobfish or wolf eels certainly aren't winning any beauty pageants,

  • but they still deserve our admiration, respect, and love,

  • especially since their quoteuglytraits are actually incredible examples of evolutionary innovation.

  • Their strange shapes or creepy appendages help them win over mates, find food,

  • and generally live their best lives in unique and sometimes surprising ways.

  • Besides, they're not trying to impress us.

  • So let's give seven of these not-so-stunning fish their moment in the underwater spotlight.

  • When you think of an ugly fish, the blobfish is probably the first one that comes to mind.

  • I mean, it was voted the ugliest animal in 2013.

  • And it's just soPink.

  • And fleshy.

  • Basically the embodiment of how people feel when they hear the wordmoist.”

  • But that description is pretty unfair.

  • These deep sea fish from the Southwest Pacific live in a world where there's a lot more pressure.

  • And that squeezes their gooey tissues into a much more respectably fish shape.

  • In fact, the specimen we're all familiar with is a decade-old fish that was preserved in alcohol,

  • and any of us would look a bit squishier after that.

  • Blobfish tissues are gooier than average, though, and for good reason:

  • it helps them survive the pressure of living in the deep.

  • Bones and other rigid support structures are too prone to cracking under such intense pressure,

  • so the blobfish has gone soft everywhere.

  • Plus, the goo likely helps them hover near the bottom.

  • See, many fish have a gas-filled swim bladder they can use to regulate their buoyancy.

  • It's basically the same idea as those inflatable vests scuba divers wear.

  • Add more air to the bladder, and the fish rises.

  • Release some air, and they sink.

  • But air pockets are too hard to inflate in the deep.

  • The blobfish's jelly-like tissues, on the other hand, can withstand the squeeze.

  • And they're probably a little less dense than seawater,

  • which would allow them to float just above the sea floor while they wait for a tasty morsel to come by.

  • Plus, they're cheaper to make than regular muscles,

  • which matters if you live in the cold depths where food is scarce.

  • And all that jelly may even help them swim more efficiently,

  • as studies suggest it could reduce drag along the fish's tail.

  • Oh boy, where do I begin?

  • Are they ugly because of their upturned eyes?

  • Or their comically large, goofy mouths?

  • Well, both are awesome adaptations to their hunting strategy of, well, not actively hunting.

  • These sneaky fish can be found along the Atlantic Coast of the US.

  • But they're not easy to spot,

  • because they use their pectoral fins like shovels to bury themselves in the seafloor.

  • Then, they sit and wait for an unlucky morsel to swim overhead.

  • Since they end up largely underground,

  • it's helpful that their eyes and mouths are more on top of their bodies.

  • And the large size of their mouth is also perfect for insta-gulping.

  • When they quickly open it, it creates a vacuum that sucks in any small critters swimming by!

  • But it's not just their appearance that's unusual.

  • According to a 2015 study, members of the stargazer family, Uranoscopidae,

  • have a lot more bile in their bodies than expected.

  • This increased bile may help them absorb calcium in their gut so they can build unusually strong bones,

  • specifically their craniums.

  • We don't know why they need such tough skulls, though, it'd be tempting to think that it's

  • to withstand the pressure of a misplaced heel.

  • It's not like you'd see them before you stepped.

  • But of course, there aren't a lot of heavy things walking around on the ocean floor.

  • And even if there were, these amazing fish have another way of dealing with assaults from above.

  • They have an electric organ in their head that lets them shock things.

  • So they can zap any potential predators that get too close for comfort, or a clumsy foot.

  • Hey buddy, you got a little somethingoh, wait, no, that's your nose, isn't it?

  • Yes, bristlenose catfishes have schnozzes only a mother could love.

  • Or, another catfish.

  • Turns out those nasal projections aren't feelers, and they're much more prominent in males.

  • And that's probably because they're a sexual signal, the bristlier, the better,

  • according to females.

  • Biologists aren't 100% sure why females are so enamored with the bristles.

  • But they have a couple ideas.

  • It may be that they kind of look like the catfish's babies.

  • Which is a good thing.

  • See, males of these Amazonian catfish species create and protect nests

  • for their future young.

  • Females decide who to spawn with based on these nests,

  • and multiple females may lay their eggs in the same one.

  • In fact, females seem to prefer males whose nests already contain eggs.

  • So, it's possible males with more bristles look like they're successful daddies,

  • even when they're not.

  • Or, the tentacles may actually help a male be a better dad.

  • Some research suggests they produce a gooey substance which could be used to nurture their young.

  • Either way, a nice bristly maw makes a male catfish irresistible to potential mates,

  • so it doesn't really matter to him that some gangly apes think he'd look better with a shave.

  • The giant bumphead parrotfish looks like it recently swam head-first into a wall.

  • And that's not actually that far off.

  • I mean, the bumps aren't bruises.

  • They're hard and bony.

  • But ichthyologists do think they're used for head-butting,

  • specifically, by large males in dominance displays that secure them mates and territory.

  • Researchers studying these fish in the Indo-Pacific waters they're native to

  • have observed male bumpheads crashing into each other at great speeds.

  • This makes a distinctive, loud thwack.

  • Imagine two big rams, but underwater!

  • And after impact, the fish circle each other attempt to bite each other's backs.

  • They then swim a short distance apart and face off for the next round.

  • This explains why the bumps are so much bigger in males, though females do have them, too.

  • Of course, that head bump isn't the fish's only unattractive trait.

  • Its mouth is also a bit of a nightmare because the teeth are fused together into a big solid beak.

  • They use those to basically eat rocks.

  • Like all parrotfish, bumpheads eat by scraping off chunks of rocks and coral.

  • Any living bits, from coral tissues to algae, are the real food.

  • Then, they grind up the inedible stuff and poop it out as sand.

  • Lots of sand.

  • Potentially hundreds of pounds of sand each year!

  • Just think about that the next time you're walking on a beautiful white sand beach.

  • And even though they can eat corals, they're actually really good for reefs.

  • That's because their scrapes keep algae in check and open up real estate for coral growth.

  • Plus, they tend to consume fast growing species, which gives slow-growing species more room to expand.

  • The redlipped batfish, which is native to the Galapagos,

  • looks like it's aiming to be the next big beauty vlogger

  • Or, maybe, sewer-dwelling clown?

  • And in addition to that namesake red mouth, it's got a whole suite of less-than-adorable traits,

  • like those appendages that look like crouching bat wings

  • and that big horn-like number protruding from it's head.

  • There is… a lot to unpack here.

  • So first, let's talk about those lips.

  • Scientists actually aren't sure why this fish has a pout bolder than Miranda Sings,

  • though it's possible it plays a part in attracting a mate, as males are redder than females.

  • As for those weird appendages: they let these fish stroll along the seafloor,

  • and they could help us understand how our ancestors crawled onto land.

  • It's not entirely clear why fish would want to walk instead of swim, mind you.

  • But a number of bottom-dwellers do it.

  • And redlipped batfish can swim, in short bursts.

  • But most of the time, they use their pseudo-legs to scuttle around kind of like a crab,

  • or grab onto something and stay perfectly still.

  • That's helpful when you're trying to sneak up on a snack,

  • which brings us to the last but not least weird trait of this fish: that thing on its head.

  • It's called an illicium, and it seems to be important for feeding.

  • Studies on related species suggest it's useful for digging around in the sand for buried meals.

  • Though, in general, it's thought to act as a lure.

  • It's not clear if it looks yummy, though.

  • Researchers think it might draw in curious fish by vibrating just the right way.

  • And it may even secrete a chemical to tempt its prey closer!

  • So while you might not find this fish attractive, what it eats probably does.

  • Wolf eels made this list in large part thanks to their pointy, canine-like chompers.

  • Those are where the wolf moniker comes from.

  • But not all of their teeth are sharp like that.

  • In the back, they just have domed nubs.

  • Having such different teeth allows them to nab pretty much whatever they want.

  • The pointy canines in the front can pierce, and therefore grip onto,

  • all sorts of fleshy meals that might otherwise slip out of their mouths.

  • Meanwhile, the fish retain the ability to crush hard things,

  • because those nubs in the back are well shaped for withstanding pressure without cracking.

  • So they can snag fish and squid and the like,

  • and also consume things like crabs, sea urchins, and sand dollars!

  • Also, they're not actually eels, just long, skinny fish!

  • That length comes in handy in a couple of ways.

  • After spawning, they can wrap their long bodies around their eggs to protect them,

  • which is kind of sweet.

  • And when they're not guarding offspring, that eel-ish shape allows them to back into tight spaces

  • while leaving their heads out to catch prey.

  • You might have noticed those heads are also a bit oddly shaped.

  • One of the big reasons for that is that they house really strong jaw muscles,

  • muscles which ensure the fish can crush whatever they catch.

  • And if that happened to be your finger or toe or something,

  • well, you'd definitely regret talking smack about wolf eels.

  • Ah, the Mola mola.

  • In the immortal words of those Boston fishers,

  • Is it hurt?

  • Is it a baby whale?

  • Is it something we ain't never seen before, kid?

  • Whatever it is, it looks like it might be missing the back part of its body.”

  • But it's not.

  • That bizarre shape lets it glide all around the world.