Beachgoers were walking along the surf at Virginia Beach when a frightening sight emerged at their feet. Staring up at them was the menacing face of a scary sea creature buried in the sand with its sharp teeth exposed and seemingly ready to attack.
Ashley Raper Starr, a Virginia Beach resident who was walking with her husband's family visiting from Maryland, captured photos of the creepy sea creature and shared them with the East Coast Surfing Championships.
The surfing group subsequently posted them on Facebook with a friendly warning to beachgoers to "watch your step."
"My niece, Cara Hotaling, saw the fish first buried under the sand," Starr told The Weather Channel. "We were all curious as to what that could be making bubbles in the sand. We were making guesses as we waited for the water to run back over it and reveal the critter’s face."
The sea creature was identified as a northern stargazer or Astroscopus guttatus. They are known to bury themselves in the sand and wait for prey, such as small fish, crabs and other crustaceans, to pass by. Their eyes are at the top of their head and poke up through the sand, thus the name stargazer.
They have a blackish-brown body with white spots, can grow up to 22 inches and are found mostly in the deep, open waters of lower Chesapeake Bay but also range along the Atlantic coast between New York and North Carolina.
"I have never seen one on the beach and I grew up here in the VB area and have spent much time on the beach," Starr told The Weather Channel.
Despite its menacing appearance, the northern stargazer poses no serious threat to humans, but electric organs on its head "can deliver an electric charge that stuns and confuses prey and helps ward off predator," according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Wrote one commenter on Facebook: "I'm not walking barefoot again. Ever!"
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