Underwater photographers like me, who really enjoy close-up work, have a number of critters we like to have in our portfolios. These might be: pygmy seahorse, such-and-such nudibranch, sexy shrimp, porcelain crab etc… Very often they are quirky creatures that take a certain amount of time to find and locate on the reef, and perhaps even more time to photograph well. For me, a velvetfish has long been on my list. Finally, I found one!
This fish is the Crested Velvetfish (Ptarmus gallus). It reaches about ten centimeters in length and is very, very well disguised. It might look liked it stands out, but without the benefit of artificial lighting, and when resting up against some algae or in the rubble, remaining motionless, this is a hard fish to find.
Indeed, as I happily signalled to my buddy that I’d spotted one, he gave me the sign for ‘2’ and yep, there was another, slightly larger fish sitting within a few centimeters of the first and I’d entirely overlooked it.
These fish are found on sandy bottoms in rubble, and prefer sheltered waters; they are not strong swimmers. They are probably more common than people think, due to their cryptic nature.
Fishbase lists this species as being native to the Western Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. It also states there are 17 genera of velvet fish, with 48 species. Overall, the group sits within the Scorpaeniformes Order which includes the Stonefish, Lionfish, and Scorpionfish. There is another Ptarmus species, P. jubatus.