Have you ever seen a ratfish? Odds are you haven’t, and yet these odd-looking creatures make up fully 70% of all the fish mass in the Puget Sound main basin. Their family name, Chimera, was a mythological monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body and serpent’s tail – pretty close if you toss in a rabbit’s nose with two incisor teeth. Where are they? Rats like it deep, looking for clams and worms on the bottom at 250 feet, which probably accounts for their covert lives, but when I caught one once off a dock in Port Ludlow, I thought I’d hooked a space alien. And I’m here to witness that they bite – just like a rabbit does with those incisors.
Why are there so many? No one knows for certain, but I’d imagine an unhealthy ecosystem might be a place to start looking, because nature needs diversity, not one species that takes over. I used to think of rats as strange and ugly, but as a painter, I now see they are truly beautiful, with glowing green cat’s eyes, copper orange and blue shades of glimmering white spotted skin and that rabbit nose. Gliding along on bat wings, they’re not speeders like salmon, and yet the ratfish has been around for 300 million years – a true survivor – and as we eat our way down the food chain, the rat will eventually come be on our plates beside cockroaches and algae.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com