A creepy fish that resembles something out of a horror movie has been washing up on Virginia beaches, although there’s actually little to worry about, The Dayton Daily News is reporting.
Last week, surfers in Virginia spotted a couple of Northern Stargazers along the shores and posted a warning on Facebook about the weird fish.
“A friend of [East Coast Surfing Championships] came across this Stargazer while walking in Virginia Beach (note: these animals tend to live in the deep waters of the #chesapeakebay) but this one was found ocean side.”
— Seungjun (@seungjunish) December 29, 2015
As the surfers noted, the Northern Stargazer fish (Astroscopus guttatus, if you care about that sort of thing) normally hangs out in the deeper waters around Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere along the East Coast; their range extends south as far as North Carolina and north as far as New York. The fish buries itself in the sand, its spotted skin helping to camouflage it from predators and pray. Its eyes are on top of its head (hence the name “stargazer”), and the fish waits for prey – crabs and smaller fish, mainly – and then devours it when it gets too close.
Making matters worse (for the fish’s prey), the Stargazer can deliver an electric shock that stuns and confuses its prey.
Fortunately, the fish poses no danger to humans – that is, unless you’re unfortunate enough to step on one. A Striper Surf forums user, identified only as “Ferret,” said the fish’s shock can cause pretty gruesome injuries.
“If you step on a buried star gazer you risk losing a toe.”
A Surfer Mag forum user, identified as “el_calvo,” posted the story of a biologist, identified only as “Dr. Smith,” who kept one of the creepy fish as a pet.
“Dr. Smith bought a small stargazer recently from a pet supplier, and he keeps it in an aquarium in his lab at the museum, where it hides under a pile of sand until he gently digs it out (with a probe, to avoid being shocked) to show visitors its scowling snout before it can furiously rebury itself. ‘They’re the meanest things in creation,’ he said delightedly. ‘I was so excited to get it. It’s the worst pet on earth.'”
It’s not clear, as of this writing, how or why the creepy fish is turning up on the shore instead of hanging out in its usual habitat well below the surface of the water. It’s also not clear how widespread the problem is – that is, whether they’re turning up on beaches all along the East Coast or just in isolated cases in Virginia.
This is not the first time a terrifying, weird, or disgusting animal has washed up on a beach this year. In March, according to Fox News, Mexican beachgoers were simultaneously baffled and horrified by an unidentified… thing that washed up on an Acapulco beach.
— FB Newswire (@fbnewswire) March 11, 2016
The creature, which was fortunately dead (or at least, appeared to be), didn’t bring with it the rotting smell of decay that dead sea creatures normally bring when they wash up on the beach. Estimated to be about 13 feet long and having bones, an Acapulco official speculated that it may have been a squid or a whale.
As of this writing, Virginia beaches remain open despite the reports of the creepy fish.