Lots of marine creatures have silly, overly specific names. Just take the spiny lumpsucker, the tasselled wobbegong, the red-lipped batfish and the ice cream cone worm. But some fish have these names for a very specific reason: They illuminate some deeper characteristic about the fish and its proclivities. Want proof? Meet the sarcastic fringehead. (Yes, that is actually its name — you can look it up if you don’t believe us.)
The sarcastic fringehead is a fish that fights with its words. From the outside, it looks just like your average blenny, content to rest its worm-like body in a little shell.
Blennies like the sarcastic fringehead generally look like tiny little eels and love to burrow in substrate, coral crevices or shells.
Sounds like a pretty tame lifestyle, right? It is, except when it’s mating season. Female sarcastic fringeheads will lay their eggs inside a shelter made by a male, who will then guard those eggs from any other fish looking for a snack.
So females want a male who can truly stand his ground and defend his eggs to the very end. If you’re having trouble imagining what a battle of wits would look like between two tiny eels, you’re not the only one.
But the sarcastic fringehead has a trick up its sleeve — err, mouth. In order to display dominance and protect its eggs, the male can open its mouth to huge, vampiric proportions and gape aggressively at other male sarcastic fringeheads.
Its mouth can have vibrant, psychedelic colorations, making such an aggressive display actually kind of pretty to watch.
Photo Credit: BBC Life
Fighting blennies will shove their giant mouths at each other like some middle-schooler’s idea of making out until one backs off and leaves the other to guard his eggs in peace.
Scientists actually call it “mouth wrestling,” which, just like the sarcastic fringehead’s name, is a pretty accurate description.
So if you ever find yourself in a fight with a sarcastic fringehead, think twice before asking him to “use his words.”
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