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What Is a Batfish?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2014
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Several types of fishes are referred to as batfish, including members of the families Ogcocephalidae or Ephippidae, along with the California batfish or stingray. The type of fish under discussion is usually clear from the context. While these fish all share a common trait of having flattened bodies, the similarities end there.

Fish in the family Ogcocephalidae are bottom dwellers, primarily found in deep water, although they sometimes venture into more shallow regions. These batfish like saltwater, and can be found all over the world. Their bodies are laterally compressed, looking like someone has flattened them, and arrow-shaped. Distinctive fins on the underside of their bodies are used by the fish to walk along the ocean floor.

Members of this family are not very fast swimmers, as their bodies and fins are not well-designed for swimming despite their aquatic environment. To capture prey, they use a chemical lure that attracts other fish. The rough skin of the batfish allows it to camouflage against sand and sediments, tricking prey into thinking that there are not dangers present. Divers are sometimes startled when they disturb hidden fish on the ocean floor.

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The Ephippidae, sometimes called reef batfishes, are found in many regions of the world as well. They have extremely long and very showy fins that cause them to superficially resemble bats in profile. Their bodies vary from silver to brown, with striping in other tones like orange and gray. Some batfish are mistaken for angelfish because they look similar, but they are unrelated. These fish are kept by some experienced saltwater aquarists. They can be challenging to feed and care for and must be monitored with care when they are settled into a new environment.

Some pet stores carry these batfish or can order them by special request. They are finicky fish to keep in captivity due to their shyness, as they may be nervous about eating while being observed by people. They are quite visually striking and when people manage to keep them healthy, they can be the showpiece of the aquarium.

Finally, Myliobatis californicus, or the California batfish, lives in the eastern regions of the Pacific Ocean. This fish is a ray, feeding on small organisms like crustaceans near the ocean floor. Although the California batfish does have a sting, these fish are not very dangerous and only employ their defensive equipment when they feel threatened or cornered. Humans sometimes encounter them while swimming and diving off the coasts of California and Oregon.

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