Bizarre Mystery Fish Identified: Species of the Week

This spotted armour gurnard (Satyrichthys rieffeli), sometimes called a type of searobin, may be the same species or at least closely related to a “mystery fish” caught in Borneo. Photograph by Jeffrey T. Williams / Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes. License: CC BY Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike

freshwater species of the weekEarlier this week, an angler in Borneo caught an unusual-looking fish, which caused quite a stir online. Reported the Borneo Post:

The mystery fish has a large head and is covered with sharp spines on the top and bottom of its body.

Its body gets progressively smaller towards the tail.

The fish measuring over one foot in length has two tusk-like spikes near its mouth.

Sapar Mansor, 43, from Taman Ceria, Permyjaya, caught the strange creature in the sea near Tudan.

“This is the first time in my life that I have seen this type of fish. I brought it home to my wife and informed her of the rare catch,” he told The Borneo Post yesterday.

To try to determine what type of fish Sapar had caught, Water Currents reached out to Zeb Hogan, a National Geographic contributor, fish expert, and assistant professor at the University of Nevada—Reno. Hogan wasn’t sure, but he reached out to Gene Helfman, a fish expert at the University of Georgia.

Via email, Helfman shared:

In all likelihood it’s a perestidiid armored gurnard, apparently in the genus Satyrichthys (good name, no?).  I can’t take it to species ‘cause there are a bunch of them (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyrichthys).  They are generally known as armored gurnards and are closely allied to our triglid searobins.  Good photos at http://www.fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/2165 and a general treatment at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armored_searobin.  I think some folks still place them in the Triglidae.

Sapar’s wife, Siti Kadariah, told the Borneo Post that she intends to dry the fish and keep it as a memento. Her children have taken to calling it “armor fish.”

“It is God’s gift and I and my family will keep the fish,” she added.

Note: Although this fish ended up being a saltwater species, I am including it in this series because it was caught close to shore, and because it’s still an interesting mystery.

  • Ima Ryma

    I was just swimming in the sea
    By Borneo, minding my biz,
    When some angler dude did catch me.
    We wondered what each other is.
    He’d not seen something like my likes,
    Large head, sharp spines, and sexy tail,
    And from my mouth, two tusk like spikes,
    A foot long, few pounds on the scale.
    A spotted armour gurnard, I
    Am called by human fish experts.
    I was kept by the fisher guy,
    And now am dried beyond life’s hurts.

    I am stuck mounted on the wall,
    Sure no fun for a fish at all.

  • Ruben

    I saw my parents a lot of times eating a kind of fish very similar to this one: http://www.ictioterm.es/nombre_cientifico.php?nc=163
    I was brought up in Melilla, a small Spanish city in the north of Africa.
    It is curious I have nearly forgotten these creatures. I have not seen one of these for a long time.

  • Gary Stokes

    I found a few of these fish in the main fish market of Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia on Oct 21st, 2013. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151967946731999&set=a.421672821998.216365.593071998&type=1&theater

  • Patrick Lee

    The searobins (armoured gurnards) were caught occasionally in Sarawak waters by anglers. As they were not well known & when caught, the locals get very excited because of their strange & unusual looks.
    Thanks to our rich bidiversity…. Never fail to amaze.
    Lets hope the goverment give us a helping hand in conservationof resources & ecosystems 🙂

  • Nancy Gutierrez

    It kind of looks like two different species got together and formed a new one. Just an opinion

  • Bonnie Anderson

    OMG amazing!!!

  • Cipriano Frazzetta

    It does not seem much of a discovery, given that this fish has always existed in the Mediterranean and I myself have eaten thousands of them!! Maybe, just maybe, there is some small difference, but the species is this and existed already!! How do you say it was discovered a new species? Mah ..



  • yedurie

    looks like a cephalopod

  • alan trowbridge

    Even I am amazed at this fish, I thought catfish were kind of scary fish, but I wouldn’t touch one for the life of me, do they even taste good??????????????

  • João prestes

    Loricariídeos/Here in Brazil we have several species of similar fish, but they are barky troglodytic species

  • wbchen

    it must be a variant species

  • Danny McCormack

    It looks like a bit like a placoderm

  • Adebiyi

    This is strange. More will emerge. Wonderful

  • vespoa

    Tremendous, a new mystery fish from Borneo. And its 6 meters long, 3 meters wide, with spikes, on its head.

  • Carlo Huerta Echegaray

    I’ve seen this fish twice, the first time was inside the stomach of a Mahi Mahi from the norte of Perú (pacific Ocean) and the second time in a beach near Lima.

    I would like to know where to submit the picture

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media