The sarcastic fringehead – morphing maniacs

‘Predator’ impersonators by trade, these unsettling creatures know all about the element of surprise. Although it may sound like this creature has the gift of the witty gab, the term ‘sarcastic’ actually stems from its derivation of the greek word ‘sarkasmos’ meaning to ‘rend the flesh’. Slightly less humorous to those of us without jack the ripper tendencies (hopefully most of you). The sarcastic fringehead (Neoclinus blanchardi) has a puppet-like appearance when its mouth is closed, with goggle eyes and lips stretching to the sides of its head. It might do well in an undersea special of the muppets, periodically popping up and flopping open its mouth with a sarcastic remark. However, this comical appearance becomes far more sinister when recruited for its proper cause.

If you head to the dodgy end of the council estate you will find these creatures inside deserted shells, their surly heads popped out the front door. Fringeheads absolutely despise house guests, and become fiercely territorial should another creature try and steal their abode. If a fellow fringehead dare to invest in a property close by, a rather aggressive neighbourly dispute will break out. In order to assess which one of them is more dominant, they will engage in what I can only describe as an awkward and aggressive kissing match. The fringeheads open and draw back their large lips to reveal extensive flaps of cheek skin. These flaps parachute open in a triangular shape either side of their mouth, revealing a pearly white set of needle sharp gnashers. Much like how a python engulfs large prey, fringeheads distend and stretch their jaw making this creepy display even larger. You would imagine that this then leads to some sort of blood bath, with cheek flaps and goggle eyes everywhere. Never one to follow a trend, these creatures have decided that it is much more effective to simply push their distended mouths against one another, in some sort of kissing ritual (albeit a rough one). The larger fringehead often envelops the smaller fringehead’s mouth and face, giving a whole new meaning to our endearing term ‘eating face’ (Mums – urban dictionary it). The smaller fringehead will then politely extract itself and relocate to a more hospitable area of town.

It’s worth having a quick watch of them in action – if only to hear Attenborough roll his ‘r’ in the word ‘fringe’

These fish are found off the coast of North America in the Pacific ocean where competition is fierce, especially for quality real estate. Interestingly they have very poor eyesight, which may explain why they go cheeks blazing into combat with anything that moves. Although they have slender bodies that seem perfectly adapted to swimming, they stay very close to the ocean floor and use their pectoral fins as walking aids (though they are not quite as advanced as those of that batty batfish). Keeping up with the ever changing views on chauvinism, the female will lay her eggs in the male’s home and he will guard them. If opportunity allows he will also keep these eggs inside his mouth for ultimate protection, provided he has no quarrelling to do. Don’t worry though men –I am sure the female keeps the shell shiny and maintains a steady supply of sandwiches.


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