Movember has come and gone for another year, but while many in the human world may rock a moustache for one month out of the year, we’re still seeing plenty of ’staches Around the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. Many marine creatures flaunt these distinctive facial features year round. Not only do they add to the debonair look of some of our finned friends, they but also play an important role in their everyday life. Here, we celebrate some of the great moustachioed members of the aquatic world.
Moustache No. 1: Catfish
Catfish or Siluriformes are a large order of benthic fish found in a wide range of habits, from fast-flowing rivers and darkened caves, to salt-water shores. They’re found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. One species of catfish, the ‘walking catfish’ (Clarias batrachus) can even breath air, as it walks over land in search of food. There are more than 3,000 species of Catfish ranging in size from the 6 cm leopard catfish to more than two meters for the giant Mekong, with an average catfish being around one meter. This species gets its name from their prominent barbels which look a little like a cat’s whiskers. (Check out the ’stashe on the one above!) But this is not your ordinary ’stashe. Each barbel is packed with taste buds, which allow the catfish to smell and sense its food as well as potential predators in murky waters.
Moustache No. 2: Sturgeon
Our second stylish ’stache belongs to the sturgeon. This ’stache is made up of four barbels (whiskers) in front of its mouth. Like the catfish, the sturgeon’s barbels are packed with chemoreceptors to help it find food on the river bottom. That’s pretty important for an animal that can grow to be more than six meters in length and weigh up to 600 kg. The sturgeon’s large size however is not their only unusual feature — they don’t have any scales either. Instead, these animals are covered by rows of bony plates known as scutes. This gives them an almost prehistoric appearance well befitting for one of the oldest species of fish. This guy has changed little in the last 175 million years.
Moustache No. 3: Sea Lion
Our third intrepid moustache wearer at the Vancouver Aquarium, and probably the most familiar to those of us in B.C., is the sea lion. Beyond B.C., sea lions are found in a variety of habitats throughout the Pacific Ocean, with different species found anywhere from the subarctic Alaska to tropical South America and even all the way over in Australia. Like our first two Movember stars, sea lions also use their whiskers to help find food in dark murky waters. However, unlike the catfish or sturgeon, sea lion whiskers don’t contain chemoreceptors. Instead they contain highly sensitive hydrodynamic sensors that enable sea lions to detect fish as far as 600 meters away. That isn’t the sea lion’s only impressive physical feat however, they’re also known to dive up to 900 feet below the surface and hold their breath for up to 20 minutes at a time.
These are just a few of the many marvelous moustaches we found on our aquatic species. While many humans have shed their Movember moustaches for another year, keep an eye out for some of these fuzzy-lipped friends on your next visit to the Vancouver Aquarium.
Blog post by Jim MacLean, Interpreter at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.