The crocodilefish is actually bonkers


Bec Crew


Bec Crew

Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
By Bec Crew 30 November 2021
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Nature continues to amaze us with the crocodilefish.

Just look at that hefty fellow. It’s huge! When you get to be that size in the ocean, there’s precious little to disturb you, which I’m sure suits the crocodilefish just fine.

In fact, it’s probably feeling pretty sheepish about being caught out in the open like that. These are shy animals that love to hide among the sand and debris of the ocean floor. You’re more likely to swim right past one than to spot it lurking below.

No prizes for guessing where the crocodilefish (Cymbacephalus beauforti) got its name from. This bizarre species of flathead has just that – a large, flat, elongated head, just like a crocodile’s. Even its fins look like feet.

And – just like a crocodile – it’s evolved some expert-level camouflage to help it ambush its prey.

Its colouring, with mottled patterns of cream, yellow, brown and dull shades of green, help it to blend in with its surroundings. Even when you zoom in super-close, the crocodilefish’s scales look more like moss-covered stones than flesh, seen here tinged with blue iridescence:

(Image credit: Minden Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo)

Not only that, but its eyes are also camouflaged, thanks to an adornment called lappets. These retractable fleshy projections hang down over the eye of the crocodilefish like an elaborate curtain, breaking up the outline of its black iris:

(Image credit: Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo)

Also known as De Beaufort’s flathead, the crocodilefish is found throughout the tropical waters of the central part of the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, off the coast of countries such as the Philippines, New Caledonia and Australia.

It’s been spotted all along our northern coastline, usually on the sandy seafloor near mangroves, seagrass beds or coral reefs at depths ranging from 1 metre to well below 30 metres.

Growing up to 50 cm long, these creatures can be intimidating. But unless you’re a small fish or crustacean, there’s not a whole lot to worry about – they’re more likely to bolt than cause humans any grief.

Not that you’d want to get too close. Imagine coming across something like this when you weren’t expecting it…