Say Hello to the Sarcastic Fringehead

sarcastic fringehead

The sarcastic fringehead lives in the nooks and crannies found within the rocky ocean bottom. (Photo credit: Ralph A. Clevenger/Corbis)

The sarcastic fringehead (Neoclinus blanchardi) gets its name from both its temperament and the fringelike appendages that are found atop its head. Despite its humorous name, this fish’s behavior is no joke. When approached by potential predators or fellow fringeheads seeking new territory, this fish aggressively defends its space.

In addition to its fringe-topped head, this fish’s appearance is also marked by a long and slender body that is typically brown-gray to black in color. Most fringeheads are between 8 and 29 centimeters (3-8 inches) in length. The fish’s large head features wide jaws and needle-like sharp teeth. These features play an important role in the fish’s territorial behavior.

Fringeheads feed on small crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp. Because their territory is so small, they must aggressively defend it in order to ensure they have enough food to eat. These fish are ambush predators, meaning they lie in wait for potential prey to swim by. When they do, the fringeheads are ready to pounce, thus catching their prey by surprise.

When its territory is invaded, the sarcastic fringehead launches into its threat display. This display includes flexing its body and head, spreading its gill covers, and snapping its jaws. If this behavior doesn’t deter a potential competitor, the fringehead opts for a little mouth-wresting (see the video link below to watch this behavior in action). Because the fringehead has poor eyesight, the mouth-wrestling activity allows the fish to determine the size of its competitor. The larger-sized fish is typically the winner when it comes to wrestling by mouth.

This fierce fish lives in the waters of the San Francisco Bay south to the Cedros Island in Baja California, Mexico. It typically inhabits waters at depths between 3 and 73 meters. Its particular territory is often quite small, and limited to a crack within a rock, an abandoned clam or snail shell, or even human trash that makes its way to the bottom of the sea, such as a can or bottle. In fact, there’s a portion of the ocean bottom in southern California’s Redondo Canyon that is covered with litter. Nearly every bottle, can, or similarly-shaped container is home to a sarcastic fringehead.

More to Explore
Species Information: Sarcastic Fringehead
Amazing Animals: Sarcastic Fringehead (video)
Species Overview: Sarcastic Fringehead
Meet the Sarcastic Fringehead

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