The Tortilla fish, also known as the Louisiana pancake batfish, Halieutichthys intermedius, belongs to the Ogcocephalidae family of batfish. A native of the Gulf of Mexico,it  was discovered in 2010. The range of this hideous creature is  covered by the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, courtesy of BP.

Originally thought to be a single species, these fish were determined in 2010 to be divided into three distinct species, the others being Halieutichthys aculeatus and Halieutichthys bispinosus. While the other batfish are found along the Atlantic coast from Louisiana to North Carolina, the Tortilla fish (a.k.a. Louisiana pancake batfish) is only found in the Gulf of Mexico at depths of up to 1,300 ft (400 metres) The population of these fish is not known: in an initial trawl (that is to say, steel nets that scraped the bottom of the sea, catching fish willy-nilly and indiscriminately) of 100,000 fish, only three were Tortilla fish (a.k.a. pancake batfish).

Hsuan-Ching Ho, of the Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan, discovered the Louisiana pancake batfish when he was visiting Prosanta Chakrabarty at the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Having noted that specimens at the Baton Rouge Museum of Natural Sciences were actually three species, not a single one as previously thought, they set out on trawling expeditions that determined the consistent differences among the critters they found. Joining with John Sparks, of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, they wrote a description of the Tortilla Fish (a.k.a. Louisiana pancake batfish) that appeared in Journal of Fish Biology. Chakrabatry is the fish curator at the LSU Museum of Natural Sciences.

“This species is one of only 70 or so of the 1,500 Gulf of Mexico species that is endemic (i.e., only found in the region). All the other species are found in the open Atlantic, Caribbean or other areas,” said Chakrabarty. “Because of their limited distribution, endemics like this new species are of special concern. In a way, this new batfish has become the poster child for the aquatic life threatened by the oil spill. It reminded me both of how little we knew about the biota in the Gulf and also about how the spill can impact some species more than others.”

Tortilla fish are also known as Pancake batfish because of the flat shape of their bodies and the form of their mobility on the sea bed, reminiscent of a nasty little vampire bat scuttling across a floor. Their pelvic fins act like feet, complete with little hook-like elbows to hop along the sea floor.  They feed on invertebrates, and use chemical lures to catch prey. Do they use AXE or Chanel No 5?

These fish can fit within the palm of a human hand, and are as thick as, well, a thick tortilla or maybe a fluffy pancake. 

The Tortilla fish (a.k.a. Louisiana pancake batfish) was named as one of the top ten new species of 2010 by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.  John Sparks said of the discovery, "If we are still finding new species of fishes in the Gulf, imagine how much diversity, especially microdiversity, is out there that we do not know about".

As resourceful and creative as the people of Louisiana are, especially the Cajuns, one might expect to see these bug-eyed deep-sea denizens on a New Orleans menu.

Would you care to try "Poisson 'pancake" au sauce piquante"?

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Lophiiformes
Family: Ogcocephalidae
Genus: Halieutichthys
Species: H. intermedius

Binomial name: Halieutichthys intermedius

Tortilla fish, Lousiana pancake batfish



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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