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Living in the Sand: There’s More to the Ocean Floor than Meets the Eye

Source: Hakai Magazine/Klaus M. Stiefel - October 9, 2017 in Adventure, Featured

Living in the Sand: There’s More to the Ocean Floor than Meets the Eye
Photo: Elias Levy/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

When scuba divers visit the world’s tropical oceans, they typically come to admire coral reefs, and for good reason: they are some of the most diverse, and most beautiful, ecosystems on Earth. But the sandy plains between coral reefs are not devoid of life; the animals living there are just harder to spot. Without coral branches to hide in, the featureless sand can be dangerous, so the animals are often concealed by camouflage, sometimes using venom as added protection. For an observant diver swimming at a leisurely pace, the sand is rich in unusual animals. The following photographs were taken in the Philippines at Negros Island, Malapascua Island, and Subic Bay just north of Manila.

When it’s ready to hunt, the stargazer (Uranoscopus sulphureus) hides in the sand with only its mouth and eyes sticking above the surface. The venomous spines on its back are toxic to predators and can be dangerous to humans as well.

Stargazers often use their tongue-like lure to attract prey within striking distance. Then they move quickly, darting upward at high speed to grab their victim. This bait-and-wait predation strategy is energy efficient as the fish makes no effort to stalk or pursue its prey, relying instead on camouflage and ambush.

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