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Monday, May 31, 2010

Sleight Of Hand(fish)

Scientists have unloosed descriptions of nine new species of handfish on the world, says National Geographic. Looking something like an anglerfish or a frogfish, they're quite a sight.

And all of them live off Australia -- which by my reckoning makes Reason #368 why I need to book that Down Under dive holiday. (And no, Reason #367 is not Men At Work.)
All of the world's 14 known species of handfish are found only in shallow, coastal waters off southeastern Australia, the review notes.
The organization that issued the study -- "a review of the handfish family by Hobart-based fish taxonomists from the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Daniel Gledhill and Peter Last" -- points out that it hasn't always been that way, though:
"Handfishes are small, often strikingly patterned or colourful, sedentary fish that tend to ‘walk’ on the seabed on hand-like fins, rather than swim. Fifty million-years ago, they ‘walked’ the world’s oceans, but now they exist only off eastern and southern Australia,"Mr Gledhill says.
They can't be lobe-finned fish, of course, but they certainly are reminiscent of them -- like they're ready to crawl iguana-style onto a rock and sun themselves.

With their dainty "hands" and slow gait, they look like easy pickings for predators. Except, according to NG:
Handfish's slow movements and tendencies to stay within tightly confined habitats would seem to make the fish easy targets for predators. But researchers think handfish have a secret weapon: a toxic skin that kills most attackers.

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