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Decorated warbonnet
(Chirolophis decoratus)

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The scientific name for this species comes from the Greek chiros (hand) and lophos (crest), and the Latin decoratus (ornamented). This member of the family Stichaeidae is also aptly named the decorated warbonnet. The prominent cirri on the head extending onto the long continuous dorsal fin resemble the feathers of an Indian chieftain's warbonnet. More cirri protrude from the preoperculum, operculum, and under the lower jaw. One can only speculate as to the function of these cirri. Perhaps they mimic the mossy invertebrates surrounding the warbonnet's lair and serve as camouflage, or maybe they attract unsuspecting prey like the lure of an anglerfish. Despite its lack-luster beige coloration, the luxuriant cirri, large eyes and thick lips make the decorated warbonnet look like a cartoon character or circus clown. Behind the frilly head is a compressed eel-like body that can be up to 42 cm in length. Broad dark bars accentuate the fins and appear like runny mascara under the eyes. Decorated warbonnets are shallow- and cold-water fish of the North Pacific ranging from Humboldt Bay to the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea and living at depths between 15 and 91 m. They are very secretive and rarely venture out from their homes inside small rocky crevices.

This photograph was taken in August 1992 by Robert Lauth at 20 m depth on the Turn Island Wall outside of Friday Harbor Marine Laboratory, San Juan Islands, WA. The photograph was taken using a Nikonos IV camera, 28 mm lens with a 1:2.5 macro tube, Ikelite 150 strobe and Kodachrome 64 film.