Red-Lipped Batfish


The red-lipped batfish is a weird looking fish of the family Ogcocephalidae that is best known for its bright red, lipstick-like lips and for its unique ability to “walk” on the ocean floor using its modified fin.

The red-lipped batfish
Credit: Daniel Selmeczi
The red-lipped batfish Credit: Daniel Selmeczi

These strange looking fish have long and sharp nose and they also look like they put a lot of lipstick on their lip.  Some scientist believe the purpose of its red bright lip is for the male of Ogcocephalus darwini to attract the female. The name darwini is named after Darwin. With broad head and slight body, large gnarled lumps cover their body.

What’s interesting from this strange sea creature is that unlike any other fishes, they are horrible swimmers. What kind of fish that doesn’t swim? But luckily they are capable of walking on the ocean floor using their fins as their legs. Same as any other anglerfishes, once they reach adulthood, the dorsal fin becomes a single spine-like projection to help them lure prey. They might be strange looking but they are harmless creature.


This fish live on tropical climate and on the depth range of 3 to 76 meters. They have build-in fishing rod snout with a retractable appendage in order to lure prey. Red-lipped batfish are carnivores; they feed on small invertebrates such as crabs, mollusks, and shrimp. Moreover, they are related to rosy-lipped batfish that found near Cocos Island on the coast of Costa Rica.

Both red-lipped batfish and rosy-lipped batfish have very similar look and behavior. There is not much information about this strange looking sea creature. Scientist still observes about the function of its bright red lips. The good news about Ogcocephalus darwini is that they have no threats, so they are far from being at risk. Perhaps it is because their strange ability to walk on the seafloor that makes them can only be found on the ocean floor.

The red lipped batfish has several peculiar morphological traits:

  • Its pectoral, anal and pelvic fins are modified in such a manner that the Red-lipped batfish can actually “sit” on the sea bottom.
  • The modified pectoral and pelvic fins can also be used for “walking” in the sea bottom. They are horrible swimmers, so they prefer walking to swimming! They swim very clumsily and only for small distances. Another example of a walking fish is the spotted hand fish
  • An enlongated, horn-like snout that attracts prey (similar to Anglerfishes)
  • And of course their bright red, lipstick-like lips!
All the above, surely make O. Darwini one of the weirdest-looking fish someone is likely encounter. 

When the batfish reaches adulthood, its dorsal fin becomes a single spine-like projection that lures unsuspecting prey.

The bright red lips are believed to enhance species recognition during spawning. Some researchers speculate that they may also by used by males to attract the opposite sex. These two are just theories and certainly more research is needed to verify them.

Where is the red-lipped batfish found?

This fish live on tropical climate and on the depth range of 3 to 76 meters. The red-lipped batfish is most commonly found around the deep waters of the Galapagos Islands.  Similar batfish, such as the rosy-lipped batfish are found around Cocos Island. The habitat range for this batfish is deep waters. Divers may encounter this fish at depths greater than 100 feet, but they are not common. A few specimens were found in nets in California, but these sightings are highly unusual and may very well be a different, but related, species of batfish. Moreover, they are related to rosy-lipped batfish that found near Cocos Island on the coast of Costa Rica. Both red-lipped batfish and rosy-lipped batfish have very similar look and behavior. 

What does the red-lipped batfish eat?

Like many deep sea fish, red-lipped batfish are voracious carnivores. They use the modified dorsal spine as a lure (called an illicium) to attract prey. It is protected by an elongated snout. In general, they eat mainly small fish, mollusks, and crustaceans such as shrimps and crabs.

How big do they get?

The maximum length of the red-lipped batfish is about 40 cm long.

Interesting and Weird Facts Sum-Up

  • Looks like it put a lot of lipstick. The role of the bright red lips still remains unknown.
  • Body more suitable for walking on the seabed instead of swimming.
  • The red-lipped batfish is often confused with the closely related rosy-lipped batfish (Ogcocephalus porrectus). They both look and behave very similarly, however the rosy-lipped batfish is exclusively found near the Cocos Islands off the coast of Costa Rica.
  • The name “batfish” is derived from their bat-like appearance and is used to describe all the species in the Ogcocephalidae family.
  • The species’ scientific name (O. Darwini) pays homage to Charles Darwin
Red Lipped Batfish - Belize

Note: In 2012, Scuba Diving Resource staff found this redlipped batfish at the depth about 30ft. in Belize. If you saw in teh Caribbean or different part of the world, please let us know.

Here is a short video  profiling the red-lipped batfish and it’s amazing ability to walk around and capture prey on the sea floor.

Sources: Untamed Science, Aequoreusvita, Strangeanimals


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The Scuba Diving Resource makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site.  Please note that regulations and information can change at any time.

November 9, 2016 |

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