Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Beautiful and Curious

In the 19th century the rocky reef just off Brighton Beach in Port Phillip Bay provided habitat for an array of spectacular temperate species. Most remained invisible to the bathers who increasingly used the Bay's gentle waters as a tonic away from the bustling metropolis of Marvellous Melbourne.

Frederick McCoy had established his family house, 'Maritima', a few minutes walk from Brighton Beach. Enjoying a stroll one day he came across a most unusual specimen, blown close to shore by a southerly change.

Calling the creature a Two Pronged Toad Fish, he had found what is now known as a Tasselled Angler Fish, a species that lays camouflaged in algal-covered reefs, waiting to tempt prey with a tasty looking lure. As is the case with their deepwater relatives, this is a fish with infinite patience and a huge mouth.

These beautiful and curious fish are found occasionally after strong south winds on the Brighton shore in summer in the shallow pools on the rocks. They are often very soft and extensible, blowing themselves up like a balloon, as the Diodon does, when alarmed.

The pedunculated pectoral and ventral fins look to the popular observer like fore feet or legs, and crawl like toads; the very small gill aperture, opening on the arm-pit of the pectoral fins, keeping the gills moist for so long a time that they seem almost amphibious in the habit of moving about out of the water between the tides.

Tasselled Anglerfish, Rhycherus filamentosus, by Arthur Bartholomew, 28 June 1879.
'Pic-nic Shrubbery, Brighton Point.' 6 September 1862.