July 24 2016, updated 11:36am

Rare striped frogfish found in Northland added to Te Papa's collection

AMY JACKMAN
Last updated 18:08 20/01/2016
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

Te Papa fish collection manager Andrew Stewart talks about the process of examining and identifying the rare frogfish.

MAARTEN HOLL/ FAIRFAX NZ
Andrew Stewart of Te Papa with the rare angler fish caught in Northland.
James Beuvink, 20, was snorkelling with girlfriend Claudia Howse, 19, when they found a rare type of frogfish.

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It wasn't the biggest fish he had ever caught, but it will probably end up being the most memorable. 

James Beuvink, 20, was snorkelling with girlfriend Claudia Howse, 19, at a bay near Auckland when they noticed a strange black shape on the white sea floor.

"We got closer and saw it had fins and thought, 'Crap, that's a fish'," Beuvink said.

"It had these little legs ... I'd never seen anything like it."

They captured it and put it in the boat's live tank where it started slowly "walking" around. 

"It was pretty chilled out. It's not the biggest fish I've ever caught, but it was certainly the strangest."

Howse's mother, Glenys, and the couple hailed other boats to try and find out what the strange black fish was, but no-one had seen it before. They got in contact with Te Papa's fish collection manager, Andrew Stewart, who arranged for it to be frozen and shipped to Wellington.

Stewart, who has researched New Zealand fish for more than 30 years, worked with scientific literature to identify the creature based on its size, fins, whether it had spots, smooth skin, and the structure of the little lure that was attached to a dorsel fin.

It was found to be a striped angler or frogfish, but it broke the mould in that it had no discernable stripes.

"This is the first time I've seen one jet-black, with no body markings at all," Stewart said.

"This particular species is strongly striped, and those stripes extend inside the mouth. So even when it's sneaking up and its mouth is open, its prey just doesn't get an inkling of what's about to happen to it."

The fish was preserved using a chemical that stopped decomposition and fixed the muscles in place, meaning it could be examined for the next century or more.

It was hoped its DNA would go towards answering the question of whether there were more species of striped anglers than first thought.

Only about a dozen of the fish have reported in New Zealand. They are found in shallow water in the north and east of the North Island.

WHAT IS A STRIPED ANGLER?

* Striped anglers or frogfish typically live in tropical waters and are not strong swimmers. Instead use their fins to walk across the seabed, rocks, coral or in seaweed.

* They can be many different colours and patterns and can blend in with their surroundings. This variability makes it difficult to identify different species.

* A lure on their dorsal fin is used to attract smaller fish and they have the fastest bite of any vertebrate. In six milliseconds it opens its mouth, swallows its prey and closes its mouth again.

It can eat a single fish out of a school without creating any disturbance.

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