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Long Island Collecting Log: Brush with a stargazer

Todd GardnerBy Todd Gardner 4 years ago
Home  /  Fish  /  Long Island Collecting Log: Brush with a stargazer

  Last week, after a successful seining trip in Shinnecock Bay, I lugged my dive gear out to the inlet to see if I could spot any tropical fishes among the rocks of the jetty. Although I didn’t encounter anything I would consider tropical, and the water was cold enough to give me brain freeze, I was treated to some pretty awesome sights. One of the highlights was this unusual sighting of a northern stargazer (Astroscopus guttatus) out for a swim. Although stargazers are not uncommon around here, it is rare to see them out in the open. They spend most of their lives buried in the sand with only their stalked eyes protruding. So I was surprised to see this one swimming along, apparently making his way through the inlet, out to the ocean. I followed him with my camera for about 500 meters before the constraints of my SCUBA tank forced me to turn around. Like frogfishes, stargazers are ambush predators with enormous mouths and elastic stomachs, allowing them to eat impressively large meals. They have specialized rigid pectoral fins that enable them to burrow into the sand very rapidly. When a fish swims over a stargazer’s mouth, it creates a suction that draws the fish in instantaneously, giving the visual effect of a well-executed disappearing act. Another curious feature of the stargazer is its ability to produce an electric shock similar to that of a torpedo ray or an electric eel using a patch of specialized tissue on its head. If you have four minutes to kill, watch the whole clip of this remarkable fish below. 

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Todd Gardner
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 Todd Gardner

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Todd Gardner is a professor of marine biology at Suffolk County Community College in Riverhead, NY. His life and his career have both been shaped by his passion for marine life and he has written numerous scientific and popular articles about his research and experiences collecting, keeping, and culturing marine organisms. Todd’s professional background includes work on a National Geographic documentary, commercial aquaculture at C-quest Hatchery in Puerto Rico, and an 11-year term at the Long Island Aquarium where he spent much of his time developing techniques for rearing marine fish larvae. To date he has raised more than 50 species. In 2013 Todd received the prestigious Aquarist of the Year Award from the Marine Aquarium Society of North America (MASNA). In his spare time, Todd dives, photographs marine life, runs marathons, and plays in a blues band.

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