Top 10 Weirdest Things Found on a Fish’s Head

By Gus Engman and Patrick Cooney

Have you ever looked at a fish and wondered, “What is that weird thing on its head and what is it there for?” Well here is our list of the ‘Top 10 Weirdest Things Found on a Fish’s Head’.

  1. Electrosensitive Rostrum: “That’s no banana, that’s my nose! Acha cha cha cha.” Even at the expense of looking incredibly weird, some fish have developed extended nose like structures called rostrums that are used as electrosensory organs. Goblin sharks and Paddlefish exemplify this, most likely due to murky or dark conditions where they are commonly found, limiting their ability to visually see prey. Paddlefish rostrums are so sensitive to electrical pulses that they can sense the muscle twitch of a single plankton! Sawfish have taken the electrosensitive rostrum to a whole new level, by also using it as a weapon, with razor sharp teeth on either edge of the rostrum that cut prey in half.
  2. Ampullae of Lorenzini: Have you ever noticed when up close and

    personal with a shark that it looks like it needs to use one of those pore-cleansing strips? Well, those dark spots aren’t blackheads, rather, they are Ampullae of Lorenzini! Say what? These jelly-filled pores are actually electroreceptors that allow sharks and other groups of fishes to sense electric fields and temperature gradients that are produced by the muscle contractions of their prey. They are even known to use them to

    find animals that are buried under the sand. More recent evidence has shown that this special sensing system can even be used for navigation based on the geomagnetic field of the earth. Hammerhead Sharks have large surface areas on their heads to better detect prey with Ampllae of Lorenzini.

  3. Nuchal hump: It may look like this fish swam right into a ledge and

    got the nastiest bump ever, but that big bump on its head is actually a nuchal hump, also known as a kok. The formation of this forehead bulge is hormonally induced and swells up on male cichlid fish right around mating time. They do rarely appear on females of certain species but are always smaller than the male bumps. Two explanations have been postulated about the purpose of a nuchal hump. (1) They are used for sexual recognition or (2) as fat stores. Either way, now you know if you see a cichlid with a swollen forehead, he is probably feeling the urge to get down.

  4. Sucking Disk: The remora’s highly modified dorsal fin that forms a

    sucking disk allows them to grasp onto larger fish and mammals and hitch a ride. Remoras remind us of one of those deadbeat friends or younger siblings that always hangs around bumming rides but never offering to pay for gas. The remora will even try and subsist off of the table scraps or excrement of the whale, turtle, shark, ray or other large fish that it hitches a ride on.

  5. Sword-like Bill: A highly elongated spear or sword-like rostrum is

    a distinguishing characteristic of members of the xiphiidae and istiophoridae families (Swordfishes, Marlins, and Sailfish). This bill is also a double threat to the prey of these pelagic predators because it not only stuns or injures by slashing, stabbing, or smacking, but it is also thought to make the bill-bearers faster through hydrodynamic mechanisms. These bills are also known to be a threat to unfortunate bystanders such as turtles, other billfish, divers or flotsum, which are incidentally impaled when prey fish try to use them as cover.

  6. Bioluminescent Lure: Have you ever found yourself standing on

    the edge of a pond or stream that you just know is loaded with fish your dying to catch, but, have to exclaim “dang it!” because you forgot your rod? Well that’s not a problem for many members of the order lophiiformes, also known as the anglerfish. These deep ocean predators have a built in rod and lure that is actually a modified second dorsal spine, which they use to attract prey in close enough for capture. The variety of forms that the lure or esca comes in are enough to give any human angler tackle envy. Even in total darkness these lures help the angler fish capture its prey by luminescing or glowing!

  7. Barbels: Many different fish species, like catfish and sturgeons, have a network of sensory appendages hanging off of their faces called barbels. Generally, fish barbels just hang about attempting to sense electrical pulses that are generated by a prey species. Whereas goatfish have barbels growing from their chin (hence the ‘goat’ name) that they use like fingers to dig around in the sand to actively probe, excavate, and detect hidden prey. Wouldn’t it be crazy to have chin fingers?
  8. Kype: Salmon moving from saltwater into freshwater to breed undergo significant physical and morphological changes. Once entering freshwater, most salmon stop eating and focus entirely on upstream migration and spawning, before dying. Male salmon develop giant hooked jaws and breeding teeth on a structure called a kype. Without the need to eat, this new jaw functions to fend off other males and impress the lady salmon. I wonder if Gonzo is related to a salmon?
  9. Tubercles: Every year in the mountain streams of North Carolina,

    one good indication of an oncoming Spring is the growth of tubercles on the snouts of Stonerollers and Bluehead Chubs. The keratin based structures most generally grow on males during the breeding season, and are shed once breeding ceases. Similar to the kype found on salmon, it is proposed that males use tubercles to not only display their prowess to females, but also in battles to defend prime spawning habitat. Many species of Suckers also get tubercles on their anal fins that are suspected to help fish dig and form proper spawning beds.

  10. Cephalic Fins: Giant Manta Rays are acrobatic marvels. Considering their large size and diet that consists of tiny plankton, they need any extra advantage to capture as much food as possible. Manta Rays use cephalic fins to funnel plankton-rich water into their mouths where gill rakers filter out the plankton. When not feeding, Manta Rays often extend these fins, giving the appearance of horns…hence the name “Devil Rays”.

Incredibly, many of the top 10 weirdest things found on fish heads have similar functions. Without surprise, many help the fish eat, mate, defend itself against predators, or provide camouflage.

Tell us in the comments below which one you think is the weirdest.  Do you know of any more weird or awesome fish head attachments? Add them to the comments section below!

Here is a list of additional fish with weird heads:
Plownosed Chimaera

Longnosed Chimaera
Slender Snipe Eel
Wobegong
Shovelnosed Guitarfish
Bowmouthed Guitarfish
Pacific Barrel Eye Fish
Blobfish
Leafy Sea Dragon
Weedy Sea Dragon
Lamprey
Hagfish
Viperfish
Hammerhead Shark
Bonnethead Shark
Batfish

One more thing: Thank you to all who have read and contributed to The Fisheries Blog.  We were honored to recently be recognized by industry leading Fisheries Magazine as a leader in sharing fisheries information through Social Media.  See the link to the article (http://www.thefisheriesblog.com/2013/04/the-fisheries-blog-gets-recognition.html)

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21 responses to “Top 10 Weirdest Things Found on a Fish’s Head

  1. “Reproductive biology and systematics of phallostethid fishes as revealed by gonad structure” discusses the nuances of a few species of a very strange family of fishes. Here's the 1st paragraph from the paper. Its so odd I had to check if it was published on April fool's day.

    Phallostethids are a group of southeast Asian
    brackish and freshwater fishes that can be distin-
    guished from all other teleosts by a complex, bilat-
    erally asymmetric, subcephalic copulatory organ
    called the priapium, which is used to transfer sperm
    from the male to the female reproductive tract (Re-
    gan 1913,1916)

  2. Great stuff Kousei! I had heard of the Pirate Perch, whose anus is near it's mouth (hence the nickname 'Politician Fish'), but never this group whose reproductive delivery mechanism is on its head. Keep them coming folks.

  3. Ampullae of Lorenzini!!! What a cool name for jelly filled facial pores! I wish my blackheads were micro-electroreceptors that could spot the movement of hot guys and direct me to the nearest mall!

  4. The barbels of margined madtoms are pretty neat, because they are poisonous. A simple poke from a whisker is about as painful as a bee sting. Look out because they can be found from New Hampshire to Georgia in streams, rivers and lakes.

  5. That's actually the spines of the pectoral and dorsal fins that are venomous. Most (all?) species of Noturus will give you a good sting. The barbels are just sensory apparati, as in other species of catfish.

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  9. I would have to say the sucking disk is pretty remarkable, and my personal favorite for this list. Although, chin fingers aren’t far behind!

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