The Marine Catapult is a cubist masterpiece from nature
All catapults belong to the family “Balistidae” (Latin ballista = catapult and trigger) regardless of color and size. This fish lives in all seas, ie in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, in tropical and cold waters. German researcher and nature lover Johann Friedrich Gmelin used the word “catapult” to classify these strange fish as far back as 1788. The first dorsal fin of a ballista has a smaller thorn that “triggers” a larger one and keeps it firmly “locked”. Thanks to that thorn, this fish can anchor and get stuck between the rocks so that no predator can pull it out. This fin is attached to the body of the fish. It launches fins if it feels threatened.
This fish swims by fluttering its other dorsal and ventral fins while its tail is used when escaping. He has a pretty funny look and a flat body. It is interesting that fish can swim in the past due to their specific anatomy. The body of the fish is covered with thick skin and large scales, which is a defense mechanism against attackers. Behind the small, full and seemingly harmless lips, there are 8 sharp protruding teeth with which they easily pierce the shell of mollusks. The ballista can grow about 70 cm and weigh up to 6 kg. It seeks rocky relief for protection, but also a sandy bottom where food is easily found near the coast and on the high seas. They prefer depths of up to 50 meters, so divers often have the opportunity to see this fish (especially in tropical seas that are full of this species of fish). In tropical seas, the female lays her eggs in a nest she digs in the sandy bottom and leaves, letting the male watch over the offspring. In the Mediterranean, the female guards the offspring while the male-fish swims around it vigorously chasing away any potential enemy. In tropical seas, it is difficult and dangerous to approach a male lying on a nest because it can be very aggressive. The nest in the Mediterranean can be approached because the male-fish does not perceive divers as a potential threat.
Ballists spawn from July to September. The female lays between 50 and 100,000 eggs. After 50 hours, the eggs hatch to survive predator attacks. This is how long the parenting of this fish lasts. Small fish quickly swim to the surface looking for floating algae among which they hide until they survive the most critical period when they are easy targets of predators. The number of surviving cubs also depends on the amount of floating algae. Young ballistae, although strengthened, still need to be protected from tuna, dolphin fish and marlins, while they are chased all their lives by gophers, chicks and sharks with sharp enough teeth to pierce thick skin. Their enemies are also humans — because of the delicious meat of this fish, which is eaten fresh, smoked or salted. Due to its exotic appearance, this fish is often seen in aquariums. A ballista can steal baits. However, the species is not endangered despite the large number of predators.
Larger fish feed on the ballista, while the ballista feeds on mollusks, shellfish, crabs, sea cucumbers, hedgehogs and starfish. An interesting way of catching this fish: the ballista descends a few inches from the sandy bottom and blows a jet of water by which it moves the sand. That’s how he discovers hidden mollusks. He moves a few inches and repeats the process until he finds prey. The hedgehog will grab it with its long protruding teeth and throw it up with the intention of turning it upside down. He will then attack the hedgehog’s stomach unprotected by thorns, pierce the shell with his teeth and eat the soft inside.
Shipwrecks are the ideal hunting ground for this fish. There he eats numerous mollusks that like to cling to rusty iron. The first cousin of the ballista is the Picasso fish, which is a true representative of Cubism (just like the famous Spanish painter Piccasso). The gray-green body of the fish-piccasso is dotted with one wide blue-yellow stripe that crosses the eye and almost merges with another stripe that lies above the puckered lips. Piccasso fish live only in the warm waters of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The piccasso fish is very peaceful and shy. There are many other types of ballista whose names are also unusual (clown, striped, red-toothed, boomerang, white-tailed, ..). The bite of this fish is very painful, so you should be careful when diving. This fish should be approached with respect like any living creature. It should be made known that you admire the fish and in return you will get a lovely view of this unusual fish.