One day, while I was in the water, I ran into a couple of snorkelers who were watching this creature. It was high up in fairly deep water in the middle of the bay. It looked almost translucent and very small, only 2 or 3 inches long. It wasn’t even clear whether this was a live creature or just a bit of floating debris. They took photos, I took photos, but I wasn’t optimistic on how they’d turn out because it’s hard to get the focus right on something like this.
After they left, I hung around and saw the creature swimming, coming up in the water. I took a couple more photos before it descended again. When I got home I was thrilled that, out of the photos I took, this one turned out pretty well. From it, I could see that this was a very small flowery flounder. The general shape and details are a very small version of the adult fish. What’s interesting about this is that flounders start out life looking like regular fish, swimming upright and with an eye on each side of its head. But within a few days, flounders start to lean to one side and one eye begins to migrate to join its partner on the other side.
This tiny, very young flounder has already completed that transition.
Time for an eye test as in spot the flowery flounder. I don’t think this one is too hard. Not like the last flounder I saw which settled on a sandy bottom, churned up a bunch of sand, and disappeared beneath it leaving only a tiny, inconspicuous bit of tail identifying where it was.
When I saw this flowery flounder swimming, it promptly plopped down on this rock where it didn’t blend in quite as well as flounders usually do. It watched me as I took a few photos. I swam away and when I looked back the flounder had gone.
As you would expect, fish that rely on camouflage for protection are hard to spot when they’re at rest. The best bet to see them is to spot them on the move.
Sometimes I notice the final motion of one of these creatures before it settles in one spot and blends in. In this case, this flowery flounder was trucking along over a sandy bottom for quite some distance before it rested on the sand. Even in motion, and casting a shadow, it’s easy to see how hard it will be to spot this fish when it stops on the sand below.
A small flowery flounder passes over what I think are patches of lobe coral. Those two bumps casting shadows on the top of the fish are the flounder’s eyes, which sit on the end of small stalks. As you can see in the photo, the two eyes are pointing in different directions. This isn’t a case of wandering eyes; they work independently.
However, flounders, like other flatfish, do indeed have the most remarkable wandering eyes. Flatfish start out looking like regular fish, with one eye on each side of the head. As they transition from the larval to juvenile stage, one of the eyes migrates over the head to join the other one on what ends up being the top side of the fish.
The eyes migrate to different places, depending on the kind of flatfish. Some are left-eyed and some right-eyed, which refers to the eyes’ relationship to the mouth. Flowery flounders are left-eyed flatfish, the eyes being to the left of the mouth when seen from head on.
There are pros and cons to photographing flounders and other fish that rely on camouflage for protection. On the plus side, once they settle, they tend not to move so it makes it easier to get a photo. On the downside, because they blend in so well, it’s not easy to get a photo where the fish is clear. The best hope is to see one on the move, as I did with this one, not only to get a photo, but also to enjoy their elegant motion as they ripple through the water.