Sapphirine Gurnard (Chelidonicthys lucernus)
The comical-looking gurnard is a member of a family of hardheaded walking fish. Bony plates and hard spines cover its large head. Part of the gurnard’s pectoral fins (the pair of fins beneath its belly) are fashioned into three pairs of fingerlike legs. Standing on “tiptoe,” the gurnard scuttles across the ocean bed, looking for slow-moving prey. Its unique legs are very sensitive. With them the fish can taste and smell, as well as touch. The gurnard is often seen delicately probing the gravel and mud for food. Among its favorite prey are pink and brown shrimp, soft-shelled crabs, and mollusks such as scallops and cockles.
Gurnard get their name from their large pectoral fins, which, when swimming, open and close like a bird’s wings in flight.
They are bottom dwelling fish, living at depths of up to 200 m (660 ft). Most species are around 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in) in length. They have an unusually solid skull, and many species also possess armored plates on the body. Another distinctive feature is the presence of a “drumming muscle” that makes sounds by beating against the swim bladder. When caught, they make a croaking noise similar to a frog, which has given them the onomatopoeic name gurnard.
The sapphirine gurnard—the largest gurnard in the Mediterranean Sea—is named for the brilliant color of its pectoral fins. Like sapphire gems, the fins range in color from pinkish violet to peacock blue. As the fish grows older, its blue fins become spotted with white or green dots. The beautiful colors are evident only when the sapphirine spreads its fins.
This fish is very tasty and can be caught with a hook and long line, or scooped from the ocean bottom with a heavy net called a trawl. Most gurnard are harvested from the continental shelf, which is where the ocean bottom slopes down from the beach to deep water. In late summer, many young gurnard are born in shallow bays and estuaries. They swim to deeper waters by their first winter.
order Mail-cheeked fishes
family: Sea robins
length: up to 30 inches
weight: up to 13 pounds
diet: small fish, shrimp, crabs, mollusks, and worms
method of reproduction: egg layer
home: eastern Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea
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