This article is from
Creation 44(4):28–31, October 2022

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Credit: SeaTops / Alamy Stock Photostargazer

‘Monster of the ocean floor’—that would be a more appropriate label for the stargazer. Despite its innocuous-sounding name, for other fish, the stargazer is the stuff that nightmares are made of. If you were to take the most cunning predatory features of marine creatures and combine them into one, you would probably end up with something close to the stargazer.

Stargazer is one of the names commonly given to two families of predatory fish that inhabit shallow seas around the world: the Dactyloscopidae and the Uranoscopidae. This article focuses solely on the latter. There are eight genera of stargazers in this family, ranging from 15 to 90 cm (6 to 36 in) long.

© Izanbar | Dreamstime.comBulbous eyes, and ‘hairy’ lower ‘lips’ and nostrils of the stargazer
Fig. 1. Bulbous eyes, and ‘hairy’ lower ‘lips’ and nostrils of the stargazer

These strange fish have a bulbous head that tapers off towards the tail, and a wide, down-turned mouth that gives the appearance that the fish is perpetually unhappy. The eyes, gill slits, nostrils, and most of its mouth are located towards the top of its head. Coupled with bulbous eyes and what look like hairy lower ‘lips’ and nostrils, the stargazer is one ‘ugly’ fish (fig. 1).

Stargazers lay buoyant transparent eggs which float to the surface. Newly hatched larvae live near the water surface until they are around 15 mm (½ in) long, then swim down to the sea floor.

Camouflaged ambush hunters

Stargazers come in a variety of forms. They generally have a mottled appearance that resembles rock or sand in colour and texture. This allows the fish to camouflage itself on the ocean floor, where it preys on small fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates.

Stargazers get their name from their unusual eyes. Their eyes are positioned on the top of their heads as if gazing upwards into the sky. While they are not the only fish to have eyes on the top of their heads, their eyes can even ‘protrude’ a little, as if they were on a stalk. This allows the fish to scan its ocean floor surroundings. It does this by filling the tissue behind its eyes with liquid.1

By performing a little body wiggle and using the large pectoral fins on its sides, the fish is able to bury itself in just a few seconds, with its eyes peeping out through the sand. This makes stargazers almost impossible to spot in their natural habitat. Short, inter-locking fleshy bristles cover its mouth and nostrils, shielding the fish from sand grains that might otherwise fall into its mouth and nose.

Hidden in this position, it waits for an unsuspecting victim.

Breathe through nostrils

Most fishes have a pair of ‘nostrils’. But these are usually just a cavity filled with olfactory sacs. They allow fish to detect odours in the water, but they are not connected to the back of their mouth, nor do they serve any respiratory function. To breathe, fish usually take in water through their mouth, passing it over their gills on the way out.

Stargazers are different in that they breathe through their ‘nostrils’, similar to what we find in many land-dwelling vertebrates. This allows the stargazer to breathe even with its mouth closed. The (completely unrelated) lungfish is the only other fish known to have such an internal nasal passage.2 Because the lungfish can spend time on land as well as in the water, evolutionists like to point to its internal nostrils as evidence that it is a transitional form from a marine creature to a terrestrial creature. But stargazers have similar nostrils and live on the seafloor.

©Ria Tan | wildsingapore.comLure on a stargazer’s lower ‘lip’
Fig. 2. Lure on a stargazer’s lower ‘lip’


As if the ability to camouflage and bury itself under the sand were not enough, some stargazers are also equipped with several different types of lures that attract prey. Some species have a feathery structure on their lower lip that looks like a small worm which they stick out from under the sand (fig. 2). It is not unlike the lures used by fishermen. When an unsuspecting fish comes along to snack on the ‘worm’, they end up becoming the snack themselves.

One might expect water that flows out of its gills to kick up the sand, giving away its position. But unlike most fish, stargazers have gill slits that are narrow and directed upwards and backwards above the sand via a short, bag-like tube. This discharges the water away from the fish and above the surrounding sand. It uses this to its advantage in another way; the water that is expelled creates a whirling motion in the sand. This mimicks the presence of a small fish, acting as a second type of lure.

When a fish comes close, the stargazer rotates its eyes independently, drawing the attention of a curious fish, in effect a third form of lure.

The longnosed stargazer (Ichthyscopus lebeck), even has diagonally elongated protruding nostrils that look like a pair of worms, acting as a fourth kind of lure (fig. 3)

©Ria Tan | wildsingapore.comelongated nostrils of the Longnosed Stargazer
Fig. 3. The elongated nostrils of the Longnosed Stargazer look like a pair of worms and act as a further lure

Powerful suction feeder

When a curious fish comes along, the stargazer opens and extends its wide mouth extremely rapidly. This creates a powerful vacuum that sucks its prey whole into its mouth in just 0.15 seconds.

Venomous spines

Some stargazers have bony plates that protect their head, and some have offensive weapons that they use against predators. These are two long, triangular, double-grooved spines at the back of their heads. These spines can be folded down when not needed, but they can deliver a venomous sting that in humans causes excruciating pain and some rather serious wounds.

While the majority of stings are not fatal to humans, there have been a few documented fatalities, especially with stings from the Atlantic stargazer (Uranoscopus scaber). The venom may break down very quickly with heat, as the sting is treated by submerging the wound in hot water for 30 to 90 minutes or until the pain subsides. Not much is known about the venom, as attempts to extract it for research purposes have failed. This also means that no anti-venom is available.

Electrifying eyes

Now imagine not only getting stung by venomous spines, but also receiving a nasty electric shock at the same time. This brings us to one of the most fascinating characteristics of the stargazer.

Sounding like something out of a Marvel superhero comic book, electric stargazers are able to shoot electricity out of their eyes!

More accurately, it is the muscles behind its eyes that produce electricity to stun its prey.3 Species within two genera of stargazers (Astroscopus and Uranoscopus) have this ability. When activated, electric stargazers deliver 50 volts of electricity, causing a current to run through a predator’s body in pulses. The current is strong enough to deliver a painful shock to humans, though not strong enough to kill.

A fossil of the extinct electric stargazer Astroscopus countermani has the distinction of being the only known vertebrate fossil where the brain has been replaced by fecal pellets from the worms that fed on it after it died.4 Compared to living species, its electricity-producing organs are reduced in size, so that its appearance resembles a cross between electric stargazers and some non-electric stargazers. Researchers think that the electricity-producing potential in this extinct species was too weak to stun prey, so it may have served other purposes.3

Defence-attack structures

How can we explain the existence of defence-attack structures (DAS) such as electricity shocks, lures, and venom, if the world was once very good? There are several possible explanations.5

One possibility is that after the Fall, some creatures could have repurposed existing structures for use as DAS. During spawning, electric stargazers produce a burst of electricity that can last several seconds. This allows them to find suitable mates and may have been the original purpose of electrical generation in these fishes. It is not difficult to see how such a complex, designed mechanism could have been repurposed as a defensive tool, under the fine-tuning hand of natural selection.

What about toxins? Stargazer toxin has not been successfully extracted. But venomous structures in other creatures give us an insight into what may have happened. E.g., venomous snakes have a complex cocktail of around a dozen different toxins in their venom, produced by active venom glands. The ‘toxins’ are almost all normal proteins that play a vital role in digestion and other important biological functions. Yet, when present in the high concentration of snake venom, these otherwise beneficial proteins can have toxic effects. The first rule of toxicology is the dose makes the toxin.6

It is possible that after the Fall, the need to survive would have favoured creatures with venom in a predator/prey arms race. A gene involved in digestion might have become expressed in the venom gland, or become overexpressed (e.g. through degenerative mutation causing loss of a control function) so that the protein concentrations are now at toxic levels.7

Finally, the lures on stargazers may be explained in several ways. God might have frontloaded the original created kind with a lot of genetic variation. That original kind likely had the information for both the ability to emit electricity, and the bodily appendages that were later adapted for use as lures. As they multiplied under the degenerative impact of mutations, some of their descendants lost either or both of these. It is also possible, though perhaps less likely, that these strange appendages arose from mutations in the past before being ‘co-opted’ for use as a lure.

Evolutionists believe that the ability to generate bioelectricity evolved independently at least six times in the past: in electric rays, electric skates, electric catfish, electric stargazers, knifefish (including electric eels) and to milder effect in elephant fish. It is difficult enough to explain how the whole complex bioelectric system could have evolved just once, much less six times! Such a repeated claim readily smacks of special pleading. Instead, it makes much more sense to understand that on Day 5 of Creation Week, God brilliantly designed all these fish to produce bioelectricity for purposes such as communication and navigation.

© Izanbar | Dreamstime.comstargazer-on-seabed
Posted on homepage: 27 December 2023

References and notes

  1. Astroscopus guttatus, floridamuseum.ufl.edu, accessed 6 May 2022. Return to text.
  2. Atz, J., Narial breathing in fishes and the evolution of internal nares, The Quarterly Review of Biology 27(4):366–377, 1952. Return to text.
  3. Carnevale, G., Godfrey, S., and Pietsch, T., Stargazers (Teleostei, Uranoscopidae) cranial remains from Miocene Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, U.S.A. (St. Marys Formations, Chesapeake Group), J. Vertebrate Paleontology 31(6):1200–1209, 2011. Return to text.
  4. Godfrey, S., Collareta, A., Nance, J., Coprolites from Calvert Cliffs: Miocene fecal pellets and burrowed crocodilian droppings from the Chesapeake group of Maryland, U.S.A., Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 128(1):69–79, 2022. Return to text.
  5. Batten, D. (Ed.), Creation Answers Book, Ch. 6, CBP, 2018. Return to text.
  6. Bergman, J., Understanding poisons from a creationist perspective, J. Creation 11(3):353–360, 1997. Return to text.
  7. Fry, B., Early evolution of the venom system in lizards and snakes, Nature 439(7076):584–588, 2006. See also Bell, P., Snakes: designed to kill? Creation 31(4):47, 2009. Return to text.