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197. Barbels and cirri


The facial appendances of fish can be categorised into two groups; barbels and cirri.


Barbels are a whisker-like sensory organs situated near the animal’s mouth, that help the fish locate food acting as taste buds or nostrils. Most fish species possessing barbels are living near the bottom where they actively hunt or sometimes scavenge for food.

The word “barbel” is derived from the latin word “barbula” meaning “little beard”.

Although these whisker-like fleshy skin extensions have beside their placement near the underside of the mouth and chin noting in common with hair. The barbels contain small muscles, blood vessels, nerves and taste buds to identify food and other thing in the proximity of the fish’s mouth.


The singular for of cirri is cirrus and just like barbels, cirri are bristle-like projections from the fishes body, like tentacles. However, unlike barbels they are on the upper side of the fish’s head, often situated above the chin and on top of the eyes, a little bit like eyelashes. It is believed that the have a similar function. Cirri come in different form and colour pattern depending on the fish species. Within a single species, cirri can be different between individuals. A good example of this dimorphism is the Weedy Scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa) where cicci can have a total different shape, structure and colour between different individuals, a characteristic that makes identification sometimes very difficult.

Cirri are also believed to function as a form of camouflage. Some cirri are well elaborated with multiple branches and leaf-like appendages and can mimic algae and sea weeds. This camouflage can be used as an effective way to hide from piscivores or for ambush predators as an attempt to blend in with their surroundings in order to facilitate their hunt.


Due to their striking character, cirri make great photographic subjects in underwater macro videography and photography. The intriguing and somewhat to us humans strange appendages have capture the attention of marine wildlife enthusiasts and underwater filmmakers and photographers alike.

To capture all the fascinating details on camera it is recommended to use a diopter while filming. Diopters come in different styles and strengths. Wet diopters are very versatile and really easy to use, they allow the underwater videographer to quickly switch between a normal or standard dome and a macro setup during their dive. If the diopter would be mounted directly on the camera’s lens it would be impossible to access the diopter under water during the dive.

Diopters come in different strengths. The higher the number on the lens the bigger the magnification. A diopter with a high magnification (for example +8 or +10) can only be used to film for extreme small subjects. I t wise to provide yourself with a more versatile magnification like for example a +4 which. Even when using a diopter or macro lens you can always zoom in while filming under water. Even at a later stage in the editing process it is possible to magnify your footage even more to get the desired result without having to film in an extreme high magnification.

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