Some Oddities of Fish Life (continued)
Cat fishes, another species of inhabitants in these and the surrounding waters, are armed with powerful spines which are capable of inflicting serious wounds, either by setting up septic poisoning or causing a violent inflammation of the part of the body that has been lacerated. One of their peculiarities is the absence of scales, their bodies being either entirely naked or armed with bony swellings or overlapping plates. Another characteristic of this species is the presence of sensitive barbels, or feelers, round the mouth, by means of which they procure their food in muddy water.
Scorpion fish are remarkable for their ugliness. They have skinny appendages projecting from their bodies, which resemble pieces of seaweed rather than parts of fish. By means of the wavy motion of these appendages the scorpion fish can either attract other fish, or it can, owing to its likeness to the surrounding seaweed, seek concealment, if attacked. Certain species of scorpion fish are provided with fin-spines, which are veritable poison organs.
The drum fish are also an interesting species. They are so called because of the extraordinary noise they make. “These sounds," Dr. Gunther writes, “can better be expressed by the word drumming than any other. They appear to be very frequently heard by persons in vessels lying at anchor off the coast of the United States, where these fishes are very common. The precise method by which these sounds are produced is not known. Since they are accompanied by a tremulous motion of the vessel, it seems more probable that they are due to the beating of the tails of the fish against the bottom of the ship to get rid of the parasite with which that part of their body is infested." These fish attain a length of more than four feet and a weight of over a hundred pounds.
A well known inhabitant of these waters is the sucker, or sucking fish. This species possesses a sucker-like arrangement, placed on the top of the head and extending backwards over the shoulders. By means of the sucker they can attach themselves to sharks, turtles, and any other fish swimming in the sea. Their hold is so strong that it is impossible to dislodge them without exercising a great degree of physical force. They grow to a length of from two to three feet, and usually weigh about eight pounds. The sucking fish are nearly always found in close attendance on sharks.
Barracudas are large voracious fishes inhabiting tropical and subtropical waters, and preferring the coastal waters rather than the open sea. They reach a length of eight feet, and their maximum weight is about forty pounds. Their presence renders the water dangerous to bathers. In the West Indies the barracuda is eaten as food, but this practice is sometimes attended with danger, for, as the barracuda frequently feeds on smaller poisonous fishes, its own flesh may thus be rendered poisonous.
The trigger fish is so called on account of the possession of an armature of spines on the top of the back. These spines are three in number, and the first one resembles the surface of a file. Hence this fish is sometimes known as the file fish. The trigger fish has the power of raising and lowering these spines at will; hence the appropriateness of the name. Their teeth are so powerful that they can easily break off pieces of hard coral, which forms a large part of their diet. They do a considerable amount of destruction amongst shellfish and pearl oysters. As they frequently eat poisonous coral or jellyfish or decomposing substances, their flesh, too, becomes poisonous.
In these tropical waters are to be found zebra fish, so named on account of their curious black stripes, which give it the appearance of a zebra's coat; angel or monk, fish, which possess a broad flat head, and attain a length of five feet; the Hanna fish, a light blue fish, named after Hanna, a scientist; the convict fish, whose scales bear peculiar marks, reminding one of a convict's dress; the butterfly fish, which bears a close resemblance, in the markings on their skin, to the butterfly; and the swallow-tail fish, whose tail, as its name implies, resembles that of the swallow.
One species of fish discovered was unique in its way. The markings on the skin resemble the Stars and Stripes of the United States flag. No native has ever been able to capture this fish, and scientists at Washington have, ever since the Williamson Submarine Expedition, been puzzling over the pedigree of this wonderful creature, for no one had ever seen such a fish before. The expedition nicknamed it “Old Glory.” When “Old Glory” was being photographed under the water, it was noticed that all the other fish gave it a very wide berth. The reason for this strange procedure is at present unknown.
Shell fish of all kinds abound in these waters, as one would naturally expect. Huge conches, or shells, containing about five pounds of delicious and nutritious food, are obtained without much difficulty.