Anilao Portfolio

Aegires malinus

Aegires malinus

All I could see was a red speck but our dive guide, Kim Manzano, pointed insistently at what turned out to be a tiny, tiny nudibranch, Aegires malinus. Our trip to the Philippines this past April included a short visit to Anilao, a dive destination known for its macro subjects, including and especially nudibranchs. We are latecomers to the Anilao dive scene – many of our friends have been telling us to visit because the same sorts of fishes and invertebrates that we pursue in other favorite destinations are also here. Anilao is a 3-hour drive south of Manila and since we had to return to Manila after our Dumaguete adventure, we decided this was the time to add on a week and check it out. There were loads of our favorites, like coral gobies and ctenophores and a few first time sightings for our life lists like this spectacular Thecacera nudibranch:

Thecacera sp. in Anilao

Ned found this gorgeous Comet, Calloplesiops altivelis, during a drift dive along a wall. We’ve seen many Comets but none this small, just a few inches long, with such vivid markings:

Calloplesiops altivelis, a.k..a., Comet

A Candycane Pygmygoby, Trimma cana

Candycane goby

And another Pygmygoby, the Red-Spotted Pygmygoby, Trimma rubromaculatus:

Unidentified Goby

This little critter that looks like it’s sporting a jacket of fried eggs is a sea slug. Colpodaspis thompsoni has a fragile shell under its mantle:

Colpodaspis thompsoni

We couldn’t figure out why Ned was so obsessed with this Dragon Shrimp, until we saw his head-on shot:

Dragon shrimp

Dragon shrimp face

The Golden Hawkfish, Cirrhitichthys aureus, was an exciting sighting – another for my life list:

GOLDEN HAWKFISH Cirrhitichthys aureus

The Rumengani Pipehorse, Kyonemichthys rumengani was formally described in 2007 from a specimen collected in Lembeh Strait by dive guide Noldy Rumengan, who recognized it as an undescribed species. We have since seen it in Halmahera, Raja Ampat, Flores and now, here in Anilao. I know many destinations like to make fishes “their own”, so we have heard lots of different common names for this diminutive fish, but we know and have dived with Noldy, and to honor him, I’m sticking with Rumengani or Rumengan’s Pipehorse for the common name:

Kyonemichthys rumengani

Nudi face anyone? Technically nudibranchs don’t have faces so don’t call me out on this one:

Nudibranch face

Once we got into a groove with our dive guide Kim I started making requests. One was for a tiny sap-sucking slug (say that three times really fast) in the genus Costasiella. “You know, the ones that look like little sheep,” I said. He knew exactly what I was talking about: “Oh yes, we also call them Baa-Baas.” I love that. This was the size of a head of a pin:

Sapsucking slug

Since Anilao is famous for its nudibranchs, we close with two more that we really liked. I think they are Phyllodesmiums but not certain:


Unidentified nudi Anilao

Fangblenny with Eggs!

Fangblenny with eggsDumaguete, Philippines ~ April 2015  A blenny guarding eggs! The last time I spent a dive watching a male blenny guarding a cache of eggs, was in freezing water with 3 feet of vis – in Florida, of all places! Since that dive (see Blenny Fever), I’ve seen quite a few different species of blenny spawn but their eggs are difficult or impossible to see because they tend to lay them in abandoned worm tubes, shells or crevices.

I think this blenny is Petroscirtes breviceps, but I can’t be certain because it stayed in the tube at eye level. It is interesting that the eggs are in different stages of development – you can see the eyes on the ones lower down in the tube. The eggs higher up are still reddish and yolk-filled.

Here is a very short video showing the blenny in the worm tube. The two tubes just behind him are still occupied by worms. To watch, click on the video below. You can watch other short videos of our marine life observations over on our BlennyWatcher YouTube channel.

Dumaguete, Philippines ~ 2015

Tube-building amphipods fightingDumaguete, Philippines, April 2015 ~ I am starting this entry with one of Ned’s photos of tube-dwelling amphipods. These creatures were almost my sole focus during our three weeks of diving, first in Dumaguete, then in Anilao. I didn’t realize the extent of my obsession until I started cataloging video and reading my journal entries – yikes!

This was our second visit to the Philippines. Our first trip in January 2011 was good – we saw ghost pipefishes, nudibranchs, skeleton shrimp, Flamboyant cuttlefish, blennies –  all the things we associate with good critter diving, but the water was cold (to us). Everyone “in the know” told us to come back in April for more of the same, but with warmer water. They were right – the April seas were warmer and the critter population had exploded. We not only saw dozens of ghost pipefishes in every color combination, we witnessed mating ghost pipefish (video at the end of this post), dozens of frogfishes of every color and size, mating Flamboyant Cuttlefish, and added a few fishes to our life lists.

Mating Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Caught in the act – mating ghost pipe fish (video at end of post)

Eggs in pouch of Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Close up of eggs held by female Ornate Ghost Pipefish

In 2011 we saw lots of skeleton shrimp, including many carrying babies (see our Fall 2013 article in Alert Diver, “Skeleton Shrimp: Tough Neighborhood”), but didn’t see the bottom-carpeting swarms that we’d expected. This time, it was impossible to dive anywhere and not see skeleton shrimp.

yellow Skeleton shrimp in Dumaguete, Philippines


Skeleton Shrimp with babies, Dumaguete, Philippines

A skeleton shrimp laden with babies.

In the process of watching skeleton shrimp, which I should note are amphipods, I found their cousins, tube-dwelling amphipods. Amphipods in strange, rubbery tubes, amphipods in tubes covered with grains of sand and amphipods that adorned themselves with sand and bits of detritus – all feeding and fighting and dragging their little amphipod tubes around. I was captivated as is evident by the hours of video I shot, which on advice from Ned, I’ll save for another post.

Tube-building amphipods

Tube-building amphipods everywhere!

There were several sites with good populations of sea pens, which meant there was a good chance we’d find arminas, a type of nudibranch that eats sea pens. And we did:

Armina in sand Dumaguete, Philippines

There were lots of other nudibranchs even though we were told they are more plentiful when the water is colder (been there, done that). This was my favorite – a Nembrotha playing host to a hitchhiking Emperor shrimp.

Emperor Shrimp rides on a Nembrotha nudibranch

Ned was on a sand diver kick. While I obsessed over amphipods, he spent his late afternoon dives watching the males court and fight:

Fighting sand divers Dauin Philippines

Two male sand divers square off

Courting sand divers in Dumaguete, Philippines

A male sand diver displays for a female

My favorite fish sighting was a pair of dottybacks, Pseudochromis moorei:

Pseudochromis moorei, Yellow Dottyback male in Dumaguete, Philippines

A brightly colored male Pseudochromis moorei

Pseudochromis moorei, Yellow Dottyback female in Dumaguete, Philippines

Pseudochromis moorei female

On one dive, I wandered along in the shallows and saw what looked like a group of blennies out in the middle of the featureless sand flat. It did turn out to be blennies – fangblennies – that had descended from their home in a nearby mooring to feed on my beloved amphipods. Oh well, circle of life…

Fangblennies feed on amphipods - Video frame capture

Fangblennies feed on amphipods – Video frame capture

A few years ago, we saw a video from the California Academy of Sciences, showing Ornate Ghost Pipefish mating in their tank at the Steinhart Aquarium so we recognized the behavior when it began and were able to get a little of it on camera. You can click on the video below, or visit our BlennyWatcher YouTube Channel for it and other short marine life observations.

We close with one of Ned’s favs: a sand diver!

Sand diver face from Dauin, Philippines

Blennies – Fiji Favorites

Redspotted Blenny, Blenniella chrysospilos

Redspotted Blenny, Blenniella chrysospilos

In March, we visited Fiji for the first time since 2005 – ten years – I can’t believe it had been that long! This pretty much made Fiji “new” hunting grounds for me because our last visit was long before the launch of this blog and my quest [...]