Louisiana pancake batfish (Halieutichthys intermedius)

Also known as: tortilla fish
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassActinopterygii
OrderLophiiformes
FamilyOgcocephalidae
GenusHalieutichthys (1)
SizeLength (excluding tail): up to 7.1 cm (1)
Tail length: 2.3 - 3 cm (1)
Top facts

The Louisiana pancake batfish has yet to be classified by the IUCN.

First discovered in 2010, the Louisiana pancake batfish (Halieutichthys intermedius) is a bottom-dwelling fish with a truly bizarre appearance (1). Like other batfish (members of the Ogcocephalidae family), this species has a flattened body with an enlarged head and trunk which form a rounded disc shape (1) (2) (3). Its pectoral fins resemble limbs, and the Louisiana pancake batfish uses these and the smaller pelvic fins to ‘walk’ along the ocean floor (2) (4) (5) (6).

Like other batfish, the Louisiana pancake batfish is also peculiar in possessing a fleshy structure at the end of the snout which is used to lure in prey. Formed from a modified dorsal fin spine, this structure has a fleshy ‘bait’ on the end, and when retracted it sits in a cavity at the front of the snout (2) (3) (4) (5) (7). As in other Halieutichthys species, this cavity is very small compared to that of other batfish, and is hidden by puffy folds (1).

The Louisiana pancake batfish’s small mouth is situated on the underside of the body, and can be protruded (2). The eyes of this species are set close together on the top of the head (1) (2), and the small, round gill openings are located at the base of the pectoral fins (3) (4) (7). The Louisiana pancake batfish has a small dorsal fin on the top of its tail (2) (3).

The colouration of live Louisiana pancake batfish has yet to be recorded, but preserved specimens are dark to greyish brown, with a pale network-like pattern on the upper surface of the body. The underside of the body is paler, and the pectoral fins are marked with black bands which extend fully across the fin. Juvenile Louisiana pancake batfish have a large black patch on each pectoral fin, but the patch does not extend completely across the fin (1).

The bodies of batfish are covered in cone-like scales known as tubercles, which sometimes have small spines (1) (2) (3) (4) (5), making the fish look like it is covered in coarse hair (5). In the Louisiana pancake batfish, some smaller individuals have small spines on the tubercles, but these are much reduced in larger specimens. Its blunt tubercles help to distinguish this species from other closely related batfish (1).

The Louisiana pancake batfish can be distinguished from closely related species by having blunt tubercles. In some smaller individuals the tubercles may have small spines, but these are much reduced in larger specimens (1).

A relatively small batfish species, the Louisiana pancake batfish is intermediate in appearance between the closely related Halieutichthys aculeatus and Halieutichthys bispinosus, giving this species its scientific name of intermedius (1).

The Louisiana pancake batfish is known only from the northern Gulf of Mexico, where it has been recorded at depths of up to 366 metres. A few batfish specimens have been recorded further east and north up the Atlantic coast of the United States, but these have not yet been positively identified as this species (1).

Like other Halieutichthys species, the Louisiana pancake batfish lives on the ocean floor, where it is likely to be found over sandy substrates (1).

Batfish are named for their habit of ‘walking’ along the ocean floor on their arm-like fins, a bizarre motion which resembles that of a walking bat (6). Like other batfish, the Louisiana pancake batfish is an awkward swimmer (4) (5).

The Louisiana pancake batfish is well camouflaged against the substrate, helping it to capture unsuspecting prey (6). The peculiar ‘lure’ at the front of its snout can be extended a short way in front of the head (2) (3), and is believed to lure prey to within reach of the fish’s mouth (2) (6) (7). In captivity, other batfish species rarely move around, except for wriggling their lures when prey is present (3), and it is thought that the lure may attract prey by excreting a fluid (3) (6). The diet of the Louisiana pancake batfish is likely to include a range of small invertebrates and fish (2) (3) (5).

Although little is currently known about the breeding behaviour of the Louisiana pancake batfish, other batfish species have pelagic eggs and young, which live in the open ocean rather than on the ocean floor (3) (5). The young batfish are generally transparent and are spherical in shape, only changing into the adult form after settling on the ocean bottom (3).

The known range of the Louisiana pancake batfish occurs within the area affected by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which pumped vast quantities of oil into the marine environment (6) (8) (9). This strange-looking fish was only just discovered prior to the spill (8), and the fate of its population is not yet known. However, the Louisiana pancake batfish is considered to be one of the species that is most likely to have been negatively affected by the oil spill, as well as by the large quantity of dispersants used to tackle it (9).

Little is currently known about how the oil and dispersants are distributed beneath the ocean’s surface, and the potential impacts on the region’s deep sea species is still poorly understood. Possible effects on fish could include changes to their migration routes and spawning grounds, accumulation of pollutants within their bodies, increased mortality, and even local extinctions (9).

No specific conservation measures are currently known to be in place for the Louisiana pancake batfish. However, studies have been undertaken to determine which species are likely to be most vulnerable to the effects of the 2010 oil spill, which may help to prioritise future research and conservation efforts. More information is needed on the region’s fish and on the effects of the spill before the fate of unique species such as the Louisiana pancake batfish can be determined (9).

Find out more about the Louisiana pancake batfish:

More information on conservation in the Gulf of Mexico:

Learn more about newly discovered species on ARKive:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. Ho, H.-C., Chakrabarty, P. and Sparks, J.S. (2010) Review of the Halieutichthys aculeatus species complex (Lophiiformes: Ogcocephalidae), with descriptions of two new species. Journal of Fish Biology, 77: 841-869.
  2. McEachran, J.D. and Fechhelm, J.D. (1998) Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. Volume 1: Myxiniformes to Gasterosteiformes. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
  3. Carpenter, K.E. (2002) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Atlantic. Volume 2: Bony Fishes Part 1 (Acipenseridae to Grammatidae). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
    ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/009/y4161e/y4161e00.pdf
  4. Nelson, J.S. (2006) Fishes of the World. Fourth Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.
  5. FishBase - Family Ogcocephalidae - Batfishes (January, 2013)
    http://www.fishbase.org/summary/FamilySummary.php?ID=194
  6. American Museum of Natural History - Scientists describe two new species of fish from area engulfed by oil spill (January, 2013)
    http://www.amnh.org/our-research/science-news/2010/scientists-describe-two-new-species-of-fish-from-area-engulfed-by-oil-spill
  7. FishBase - Order summary for Lophiiformes (January, 2013)
    http://www.fishbase.org/summary/OrdersSummary.php?order=Lophiiformes
  8. International Institute for Species Exploration, Arizona State University: Top 10 - 2011: Pancake batfish (January, 2013)
    http://species.asu.edu/2011_species10
  9. Chakrabarty, P., Lam, C., Hardman, J., Aaronson, J., House, P.H. and Janies, D.A. (2012) SPECIESMAP: a web-based application for visualizing the overlap of distributions and pollution events, with a list of fishes put at risk by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Biodiversity and Conservation, 21: 1865-1876.