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Weird Fish Has Tiny Brain, Big Mouth and an Appropriate Name

If you’re opening a new exhibit at your nature museum, would you have your front-and-center main feature be a creature whose name would probably get censored in many news reports? That’s what the Royal BC Museum did when it opened a new gallery with an exhibit showcasing the bony-eared assfish. The what?

museum

The Royal BC Museum. Where’s the sign pointing to the assfish exhibit?

Why would a fish with a name like that get its own exhibit at a family museum? Possibly because it’s the first of its kind ever caught off the coast of North America. The Acanthonus armatus is a member of the tusk-eel family (probably the black sheepshead of the clan) normally found in tropical and subtropical waters – not those around British Columbia. This 30-centimeter (foot-long) one was caught 10 years ago in Queen Charlotte Sound, off the north end of Vancouver Island.

Why is it called an assfish? Here’s a thought from Gavin Hanke, the museum’s curator of vertebrate zoology.

It is an ugly fish. It’s got a big bulbous head and a tapering body and flabby skin. It almost looks like a glorified tadpole.

We’ve all seen fish like that at cheap restaurants but they weren’t called assfish. A better reason might be because it has a huge mouth and a tiny brain. Was “politician-fish” already taken?

An x-ray image of an assfish showing its big mouth and tiny brain

An x-ray image of an assfish showing its big mouth and tiny brain

While we’re on the subject of odd names, assfish isn’t even the most bizarre fish moniker. It has to compete with spiny lumpsucker, bloater, slippery dick and slimehead. Now there’s a list to memorize for when you need some new insults at your next family reunion.

The only known North American bony-eared assfish will be on display for three months at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria in the new Pocket Gallery – which used to be the coat check area.

If it had a choice, the assfish might prefer a converted restroom.