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Northern Stargazer

Astroscopus guttatus

The northern stargazer is a strange-looking fish with a speckled, flattened body and a large head. (Canvasman21/Wikimedia Commons)
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The northern stargazer is a strange-looking fish with a speckled, flattened body and a large head. (Canvasman21/Wikimedia Commons)

The northern stargazer is a strange-looking fish with a speckled, flattened body and a large head. It lives at the bottom of the lower Chesapeake Bay’s deep, open waters.

Appearance:

  • Blackish-brown body with white spots that gradually get bigger from the head to the tail
  • Flattened body
  • Large head with mouth and eyes located on the top, facing upward
  • Three dark, horizontal lines on the tail
  • Can grow to 22 inches long, but is usually 8-18 inches long

Habitat:

  • Lives at the bottom of deep, open waters

Range:

  • Found mostly in the lower Chesapeake Bay, but sometimes travels to the upper Bay in autumn
  • Ranges along the Atlantic Coast between New York and North Carolina

Feeding:

  • Eats small fish, crabs and other crustaceans
  • Hunts by burying itself in the sand with its eyes and mouth sticking out just enough to search for prey. Once it sees something tasty swim by, the stargazer uses its large mouth to create a vacuum to suck its prey in.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawns in May-June
  • Lays small, transparent eggs on the bottom of the Bay
  • Eggs eventually float to the surface and hatch
  • Larvae grow rapidly, feeding from a yolk sac until it is completely absorbed
  • Once they grow to about 12-15 millimeters long, larvae swim to the bottom of the Bay, where they mature into adults. At this time their electric organ also begins to form.

Other Facts:

  • Scientific name, Astrocopus, means "one who aims at the stars," and guttatus means "speckled"
  • Uses its side fins as shovels to quickly burrow below the sand in a matter of seconds
  • Has an organ on its head that can deliver an electric charge that stuns and confuses its prey and also helps ward off predators. Watch this video of a northern stargazer to see it bury itself, then deliver a surprising shock to the cameraman!

Video courtesy Cyrus Zafaranloo

Sources and Additional Information:

  • Fishes of Chesapeake Bay by Edward O. Murdy, Ray S. Birdsong and John A. Musick
  • Northern Stargazer – Florida Museum of Natural History



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