||How did Lookdown and Stargazer
Fishes get Their Names?
Lookdowns and Stargazers have different perspectives
on their aquatic worlds, so to speak, since their eyes are
positioned in somewhat unusual places. Both fish take their
names from the way their eyes are situated. The Lookdown,
Selene vomer, appears to be gazing down its nose as
One look at this school of Lookdowns and
its easy to see how they
got their name!
It has a very compressed or thin body with
a very long or steep forehead. Its that steep forward
that accounts for its downward-cast eyes. The Lookdown is
a member of the Jack family and has a metallic coloring:
bluish on its back and silvery or golden elsewhere. Its
coloring might be one reason why the Lookdown also is called
moonfish for the Greek goddess of the moon, Selene.
Long reed-like strands called filaments extend from the
dorsal spines of young Lookdowns help them hide in the grasses
of salt marsh. Young Lookdowns also have longer pelvic fins
to aid in camouflage.
The Lookdown grows to about 16 inches and can be found in
shallow coastal waters, from Maine to Uruguay.
While Selene vomer casts a downward eye, the Stargazer
appears to be looking in the opposite direction. There are
two families of Stargazers: the smaller Family Dactyloscopidae
and the larger Family Uranoscopidae. Members of each family
are characterized by eyes that are located on top of the
head, so it seems as though they are constantly looking
skyward. The Speckled Stargazer, Dactyloscopus moorei,
is one of several Stargazers found off North Carolina. Its
eyes are actually on short stalks. It is sand-colored with
dark, evenly scattered speckles on its back. It burrows
in soft, sandy bottoms, where it blends in with the scenery
to surprise its prey. The Speckled Stargazer grows to about
At least three varieties of Stargazers from the Family Uranoscopidae
are found in North Carolina waters: the Northern Stargazer,
Astroscopus guttatus, the Southern Stargazer, Astroscopus
y-graecum, and the Lancer Stargazer, Kathetostoma
albigutta. These medium-sized fish have very flat heads
and very vertical mouths.
In addition to the unique placement of their eyes, both
the Northern and Southern Stargazers produce electricity
from a muscle behind the eye. It is thought that these fish
create an electrical field that gives a shocking
early warning signal to predators.
These three Stargazers lurk on the bottom of the ocean,
sometimes partially burying themselves to wait for prey.
Do you have a question about the waters of North Carolina
or the creatures that reside in them? If so, send your questions
to Ask the Aquarium, North Carolina Aquariums, 417 North
Blount Street, Raleigh, NC 27601. If your question is selected,
we'll send you two complimentary passes to the Aquariums!
The Aquariums are located at Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores,
and Roanoke Island and are administered by the North Carolina
Department of Environment and Natural Resources. For more
information on the aquariums, call 1/800-832-FISH.