Opsanus pardus, also known as the leopard toadfish is becoming one of my more regular encounters diving along the Emerald Coast. Toadfish are appropriately named possessing a large head, mouth and eyes and coloring that isn’t dissimilar to a toad. They are fairly adept at hiding camouflaged within surrounding structure and ambushing prey. Toadfish also can make a distinctive croaking or drumming noise for territorial and mating purposes. Because of their vocalization, they make up a significant portion of dolphins diet which hunt them by listening for the mating call. There are six species in the Opsanus genus with two others quite similar in appearance to the leopard toadfish.
Opsanus beta, the gulf toadfish, is smaller and prefers shallow water and opsanus tau, the oyster toadfish, is more prominently found on the Atlantic coast and has slightly different skin flaps around the mouth. The first time I came across a leopard toadfish I took my time capturing a good photo. It is a photogenic species and I assumed they were rare so I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. After seeing dozens of them on my next few dives and only going one dive without spotting at least one I started to surmise that along the panhandle they weren’t rare after all.
Toadfish are a good subject for practicing your underwater photography skills; if you approach slowly they can be very cooperative. Sometimes they will remain motionless partially outside of their hiding spot and give you ample time to compose your shot. If you haven’t dialed in your approach though, they can be spooked and will quickly disappear.
Because they like crevices they are also great practice in figuring out the best approach angle for a pleasing composition while avoiding shooting straight down. If you continue to snap pictures as you approach you will see firsthand the benefit of getting close to the subject; the later shots will be sharper and more colorful as your proximity improved. The bridge rubble sites just south of the Destin Pass are infested with toadfish because there are so many excellent crevices. But the only site I haven’t found at least one toadfish is the Hayward Liberty Ship.
Leopard toadfish are the first of many interesting marine creatures inhabiting the waters off the Emerald Coast that I hope to highlight. Toadfish are curious looking and make great subjects for honing your underwater photography skills. Chances are if you make a few dives in the area and are somewhat alert you’ll spot one… or many!