5 ‘cryptic’ fish to look for on your next snorkelling trip in South Australia

5 ‘cryptic’ fish to look for on your next snorkelling trip in South Australia

Gob­lins, dev­ils and drag­ons – SA sure has some unique-look­ing fish. Find out where to spot these cryp­tic ones.

Have you ever read a fan­ta­sy nov­el that was set in a land that you just want­ed to get sub­merged in and expe­ri­ence for yourself?

Well cast the nov­el aside and put on your snorkelling or dive gear, as South Australia’s waters are an under­wa­ter fan­ta­sy land you can lit­er­al­ly sub­merge your­self in.

Some of the fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures you can find are known as cryp­tic fish’, which are defined as species close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with sea­weeds or the seabed.

They are well cam­ou­flaged or hard to find in their habi­tat, so see it as a chal­lenge to look for them next time you snorkel or dive in one of SA’s marine parks.

Here are our top 5 cryp­tic’ fan­tas­ti­cal fish species for you to look for right here in SA:

1. Gob­lin­fish (Glyptauchen pan­dura­tus)

Gob­lins are mag­i­cal, sneaky, ugly and mali­cious crea­tures that love noth­ing more than to steal your pre­cious belongings.

While not like­ly rob you under­wa­ter, the gob­lin­fish is a bizarre-look­ing crea­ture capa­ble of deliv­er­ing a sting­ing blow with their ven­omous spines.

Their odd shape and mot­tled colour make them an excel­lent ambush preda­tor that likes to feed at night.

These fish can be seen in rocky reefs and often occur under jetties.

5 ‘cryptic’ fish to look for on your next snorkelling trip in South Australia

2. Blue dev­il (Para­ple­siops meleagris)

Lurk­ing in the shad­ows, the blue dev­il hides among caves and rock crevices.

It doesn’t go far from home and will let plen­ty of crea­tures pass by… until it decides it’s feed­ing time.

Known as an implo­sion feed­er, the blue dev­il pro­vides a ghoul­ish demise for its prey by quick­ly open­ing its large mouth, caus­ing an inescapable flow of water direct­ly into its mouth, inhal­ing its prey in the process.

Con­trary to this behav­iour, the blue dev­il is actu­al­ly a curi­ous crea­ture, often inter­act­ing with divers in a laid back man­ner unless it is guard­ing its eggs. They won’t bite, but if you see eggs attached to the roof of its cave, then it’s best to leave them alone.

5 ‘cryptic’ fish to look for on your next snorkelling trip in South Australia

3. Leafy sead­rag­on (Phy­co­du­rus eques)

A fan­ta­sy sto­ry wouldn’t be com­plete with­out the appear­ance of a drag­on. Much like the majes­tic drag­ons of fairy tales, the leafy sead­rag­on is one of the most strik­ing and icon­ic cryp­tic fish found here in SA.

A leafy’s elab­o­rate body shape is per­fect­ly suit­ed for dis­guis­ing them­selves as sea­weed to avoid preda­tors. Qui­et­ly stealthy and well cam­ou­flaged, these crea­tures are per­fect­ly poised to make a sur­prise attack.

But there’s no need to fear these drag­ons – unless you’re a tiny crus­tacean. Leafy sea drag­ons suck in small crus­taceans, such as mysids, through their long snouts.

5 ‘cryptic’ fish to look for on your next snorkelling trip in South Australia

4. Warty prow­fish (Aetap­cus mac­u­la­tus)

Cov­ered in wart-like bumps, the warty prow­fish does not need a kiss from a princess to trans­form its unusu­al appearance.

Like a knight shed­ding its armour, these quirky fish will shed their skin month­ly to pre­vent foul­ing and growth of unwant­ed par­a­sites and bac­te­ria on their skin.

This phe­nom­e­non is quite rare in fish, mak­ing this cryp­tic species very unusual.

Usu­al­ly found hid­den among the kelp, warty prow­fish also have the unique abil­i­ty to expel a cloud of tox­ic flu­id from their gills to deter predators.

5 ‘cryptic’ fish to look for on your next snorkelling trip in South Australia

5. South­ern vel­vetfish (Aploac­ti­so­ma milesii)

South­ern vel­vetfish are like under­wa­ter gar­goyles, dis­guis­ing them­selves as an inan­i­mate object.

With vel­vet-like skin and an array of fil­a­ments and orna­men­tal appendages along its lat­er­al line, the vel­vetfish looks like float­ing weed.

Its swim­ming behav­iour also mim­ics float­ing sea­weed as it almost falls from side to side while slow­ly mak­ing its way across the seafloor.

These under­wa­ter gar­goyles can still pack a punch though and have ven­omous fin spines to deter preda­tors, so if you see one don’t touch it!

5 ‘cryptic’ fish to look for on your next snorkelling trip in South Australia

Where to go to spot these species

Encounter Marine Park is a fan­tas­tic place to start if you want to see these cryp­tic won­ders. This marine park includes well-known loca­tions such as Rapid Bay, Sec­ond Val­ley and Las­seters Reef, which are all about 1.5 hours from Adelaide.

Leafy sead­rag­ons can also be seen around the Bluff at Vic­tor Har­bour, which is also part of Encounter Marine Park, off of Edith­burgh jet­ty in the Low­er Yorke Penin­su­la Marine Park and Tum­by Bay Jet­ty in the Sir Joseph Banks Marine Park on the Eyre Peninsula.

Just remem­ber, as with all wild ani­mal inter­ac­tions, make sure you adhere to the look but don’t touch’ policy.

Tips for beginners

Not expe­ri­enced at snorkelling but want to get out there and see some of these amaz­ing crea­tures? Expe­ri­ence Marine Sanc­tu­ar­ies runs reg­u­lar guid­ed group snorkelling tours where you might have a chance to see some of these fish.

Feel­ing more adven­tur­ous? Learn to dive at under­wa­ter sports or Ade­laide scu­ba div­ing centres.

Want more?

There are so many amaz­ing things to see in SA’s under­wa­ter world. So even if you don’t spot these five fish, a snorkelling or div­ing trip will bring you up close and per­son­al with plen­ty of others.

Grab your­self a copy of our snorkel­ers guide and see what else you can find. There’s a fan­ta­sy world in our marine parks wait­ing for you.

Did you know…

These five cryp­tic species were all spot­ted on a recent SA Reef Life Sur­vey con­duct­ed with­in Encounter Marine Park as part of the Green Ade­laide Rocky Reef Health Pro­gram. You can find more infor­ma­tion about the health of these reefs at the web­site.

With the weath­er warm­ing up, now’s the time to dive right in at your near­est marine park. Read our sto­ries for some inspi­ra­tion:How to spend a day in Encounter Marine Park,10 top spots to snorkel in South Aus­traliaand5 black-and-white fish you can see in South Aus­tralian waters.

(Main image cour­tesy of Dan­ny Brock, DEW)

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living