Blennies and Beans – Fiji Edition

My sea bean haul at Beqa Island

My haul of sea beans found along the shore at Lalati Resort in Fiji

March 2015 ~ Blennies and sea beans - two of my favorite things – in the same week.  We’re ending our longest dry spell in years with a short land-based stay in Beqa (pronounced ben-ga) Island, Fiji, before we join friends aboard the Nai’a liveaboard dive boat. There is a very shallow, wide sand shelf here in front of Lalati Resort that is dry at low tide, making for hours of entertaining beach-combing and tide pooling.

Sea bean in the sand at Bega Island, Fiji

A sea bean washed up on shore, Beqa Island, Fiji

The wrack along the beach had loads of tropical drift seeds, a.k.a. sea beans. There was quite a variety of shapes and sizes, but I think they may all be from only one or two different plant species. Sea bean is the catch-all term for seeds that wash down from land and float at the caprice of ocean currents until tides or winds push them ashore, often far away from their native growth. I don’t know if my lucky haul was the result of favorable tides or if I am just the first sea beaner to wander along this stretch in a while.

Mudskipper at Bega Island, Fiji Blennywatcher.com

A mudskipper rests on a washed-up coconut before resuming its flight from me!

At dawn, we watched a small heron chasing and catching small fishes along the water’s edge. Now, as I slog along, mudskippers, a.k.a. rockskippers, tail walk across the water in front of me. Having escaped being breakfast for the bird, they weren’t taking any chances with whatever danger I represented.

Thousands of Yellow Fiddler Crabs at Beqa Island, Fiji

They looked like little yellow leaves fluttering in the breeze: Fiddler crabs

When the tide was out, thousands of small yellow fiddler crabs emerged from sunken burrows to feed and, in the case of the males, attract a mate. What appeared from shore as fluttering yellow leaves were males, waving with much enlarged claws to beckon wandering females. The males seemed to stay near their holes, while the females wandered; I learned to spot the female by looking to the center of a group of waving claws.

Yellow Fiddler Crab at Beqa Island, Fiji

Boss crab

Not interested in sea beans, Ned was enticed off the porch by the crabs and we spent hours watching them feed, chase and fight. The male crabs engaged in minutes-long battles, often ending in a short fencing match sending the apparent loser scurrying into his nearby hole.

The hazards of turning rocks - bristle worm

Nailed by a bristle, a.k.a., fire worm – the hazards of turning rocks!

Rock-turning can have its hazards. Divers are taught to avoid contact with fire worms, large segmented worms that earn their common name from their many bristles, that can inflict a burning sting. Ned had a temporarily painful encounter with one that was sheltering under a rock that he flipped.

Smooth Fangblenny, Petroscirtes xestus

A new blenny for my life list: Smooth Fangblenny, Petroscirtes xestus

We chose this resort so we would have the option of diving from shore or off the boats. The shore dive was best at high tide, so we dived the first two days there, then joined Krista and Lars on the Blue Starfish Dive Centre boat for the next two days. We added another blenny to our life lists: the Smooth Fangblenny and that got me so excited that I spent the rest of the week hunting for blennies. Check back soon for our collection of Fiji blennies.

Oh Blenny! (We struck Gold)

Midas blennies (Ecsenius midas) male - by Ned DeLoach

A male Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas)

Pantar, Indonesia (May 2014)  ~  I just saw a blenny that I don’t recognize and you have to go back to see it.  Ned nodded in assent, barely looking up from his laptop. Our liveaboard dive boat, the Dewi Nusantara, was scheduled to remain in this bay for one more day, so I had the evening to pursuade Ned to return to the dive site the next morning instead of exploring another spot. And we had to go back -  because I found the blenny at the end of my dive, when everyone else had surfaced and boarded the tender. There were actually a half dozen of these blennies and they were so animated and distinctly patterned and big – oh blenny!

Male Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas) by Ned DeLoach

A male Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas) in its nuptial (courting) colors

 

Female Midas Blenny by Ned DeLoach

A female Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas) in a typical color pattern

I love blennies, but I am by no means an expert and there are many blenny species that I have never seen, so announcing that I saw one I don’t recognize isn’t necessarily an earth shattering proclamation. But this was a site that we have dived a half dozen times over the past eight years so it was hard to believe we’d missed such a charismatic fish. What was going on? I downloaded the little bit of footage I managed to get and showed it to Ned – we both agreed it looked like a Midas Blenny, but was much larger than the little yellow ones we usually see mixed in and feeding with Anthias in the water column. But Ned did not share my enthusiasm for a return dive and did not tell me why until after we returned the next morning. He said that after he saw my video and the crazy way the fish were swimming he really thought there was no way in hell that he’d get a decent shot.

Midas blennies (Ecsenius midas) courting - by Ned DeLoach

Male Midas Blenny trying to entice a female into laying eggs in his hole

We confirmed my mystery blenny was indeed a Midas Blenny, Ecsenius midas – a male – in its nuptial colors. There was no doubt once we spent an hour watching them – the males did their best to entice females back to their holes in the reef to lay eggs that the males would guard. And Ned got the shots. I’ve loaded a short video on our YouTube Blennywatcher channel or you can watch it by clicking below:

More Melibe!

Melibe megaceras in Lembeh Strait by Ned DeLoachIn May 2012, Ned returned from a dive in Lembeh, Indonesia, with images of this tiny, clear Melibe nudibranch. He had been working the very shallow black sand shelf with our guide, while I was below them at 60 feet, taking video of another, much larger species of Melibe. I was pretty satisfied with my Melibe -until I saw the image of his, which happened to be a species neither of us had ever seen before. I managed to talk them into going back to the dive site the next day on the off chance that we might find it again. Ned and our guide valiantly hunted for about 15 minutes before they abandoned me to my hopeless quest but I stayed with it for 90 minutes with no luck. Ned sent his photo off to Dr. Terry Gosliner who identified it as Melibe megaceras, a species he had described in 1987.

Melibe megaceras video frame capture

Video frame capture – you can see the size next to our guide’s 1/4-inch wide pointer.

May 2014 found us back in Lembeh Strait and on this particular dive, over on the opposite side of the bay at a famed site called Hairball. Our goal was a pair of Ambon Scorpionfish known to be in the area but another boat was positioned where we wanted to drop, so we opted for a fairly bare patch of shallow black sand nearby. Almost within a minute, our guide Man, motioned me over, pointing to the black sand, where I saw absolutely nothing. It took several iterations of the point-shrug-can’t see-show me again-pantomime before I realized that he had found another Melibe megaceras! It was so tiny (see in the video frame capture above how it sizes up to Man’s pointer) and clear but this time I could add one more Melibe to my life list! Video below:

 

Parrotfish Cocoon

Recently, during a get-together of diver friends, the subject of parrotfish cocoons came up – I don’t remember why – and surprisingly, several said they had never seen a parrotfish sleeping in a mucous cocoon. After thinking about it, Ned and I realized that in all the hundreds of night dives we’d made, we had [...]