Funky Fish Blog - Ocellated Waspfish
Apistus carinatus - The Ocellated Waspfish
Distribution: broad Indo-West Pacific distribution, ranging from Red Sea to South Africa and east to Japan and South Australia
Size: up to 10 inches (25 cm)
The Ocellated Waspfish is one of the most interesting, enigmatic, and beautiful fishes in The Field Museum's fish collection. This species spends most of its day buried with just its eyes and venomous dorsal spines sticking above the sand. When frightened, Apistus will burst out of the sand and flash the brightly-colored inside of its enormous pectoral fins. This surprises would-be predators and allows the waspfish to escape. Beyond the brightly colored pectoral fins, the Ocellated Waspfish is generally drab colored with variations of pink, yellow, and white. However, they have characteristic black and white markings on their venomous spines.
When searching for and hunting prey, the Ocellated Waspfish will use both its barbels and its elongate and free pectoral-fin rays (one on each side) to detect prey items buried in the sand. If it doesn't catch the prey while buried, the waspfish can corner its prey with its enormous pectoral fins, much like the lionfishes (Pterois) in the Scorpaenidae.
Ocellated Waspfishes are typically rare, but in the right environment, they can be locally abundant (primarily over prawn-grounds on soft bottoms along the continental shelf). They occasionally appear in the aquarium trade where buyers should be careful with the waspfishes venomous dorsal, anal, and pelvic spines.
Historically, there has been a lot of confusion about where the Ocellated Waspfish falls in the fish family tree. Ichthyologists recognize that it belongs with the scorpionfishes, stonefishes, and sea robins in the Scorpaenoidei. Unfortunately, we cannot agree on whether Apistus belongs with the sea robins (Triglidae) or the waspfishes (Tetrarogidae). It shares modified scales, greatly expanded pectoral fins, free pectoral rays, and modified gas bladder muscles with the sea robins, but it shares venomous spines, lateral-line specializations, oral jaw modifications, and ligamentous modifications with the waspfishes. Recent work has fairly consistently allied Apistus with the waspfishes.
At The Field Museum, we have seven specimens of this enigmatic species. Six of these specimens, FMNH 55426, 55457 (2 specimens), 55475, 55476, and 55557, are historical collections from Japan made by the famous ichthyologist and first president of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, in the early 20th century. The final specimen is a live specimen purchased by Leo Smith in 2010 from the pet trade (FMNH 119634). Please take a look at these specimens or other fishes in our collection database.
I encourage you to watch a video of the pet trade specimen burying himself and swimming around.