The Most Photographed Tessellated Blenny in the World

Tessellated Blenny's colorful neck by Ned DeLoachThis is the most photographed Tessellated Blenny in the world and likely the most observed. I am certain of this. I spent hours with this fish and its reefmates –  I think I might have been obsessed. A few days after we arrived on Bonaire for our annual 5-week stay, our friends Allison and Carlos Estape (fellow fish surveyors) stopped by and told us about a site that had Tessellated Blennies (Hypsoblennius invemar) living in the barnacle shells. An abandoned, submerged mooring covered with a complex growth of sponges, barnacles and other invertebrates, this was perfect habitat for Tessellated Blennies. Enchanted by these colorful fish, we visited the site, dubbed the “blenny condo,” again and again regularly finding from 12 to 15 individuals, including one only a half-inch long.

The Tessellated Blenny that started it all Ned DeLoachAbove: another view of the same blenny. Of all the blennies at the condo, this individual had the most developed cirri. It was also the most photogenic, sitting in a barnacle shell that was free of surrounding growth. Over five weeks, Ned and I showed it and the others in the colony to many fishwatchers and photographers – anyone who was willing to spend an hour at eight feet to look at a tiny, 2-inch fish. Although the mooring was attached to the bottom, at a depth of 26 feet, all the blennies I counted were in the top ten feet of water. Looking up, you can see how close the top of the mooring is to the surface:The Bonaire Blenny condo by Ned DeLoach

Hanging out at ten feet could be tough when it was surgy, but we made a number of dawn dives, when the water was calmer and the blennies were particularly active. I was able to distinguish some of the females from the males by their behavior. In many blennies, the nuptial males are colored differently from the females and young, non-breeding males. They are usually site attached, rarely leaving their holes – I think this is because they are either guarding eggs or trying to attract females to lay eggs there. The Tessellated Blennies that never left their holes were the most vibrantly colored and strongly patterned, which led me to believe they were the males. When what I thought was a female approached, the males exhibited a very distinctive head-bobbing behavior, often leaning way out of the hole, like this one:Tessellated Blenny trying to attract a female by Ned DeLoach

I could not tell the difference between the females and young males, but many were running around and getting into frequent fights with each other. When I saw a male going crazy, bobbing up and down like a mini-piston, I was certain the target of his showboating was a female, like this one that tucked itself into a shell after running around the male several times:Tessellated Blenny Female by Ned DeLoach

Ned shot dozens of photos of the Tessellated Blennies on the blenny condo but this is my favorite. I wuv de widdle toofees: The Laughing Blenny by Ned DeLoach

Coming soon: a revised Bonaire blenny map.

Team Blenny

Blennies of Bonaire

Some of the blennies we saw in 2013 on Bonaire

Team Blenny is on the job in Bonaire – check out the results of last year’s hunt on our newly created Bonaire Blenny Page. There are photos and hand-drawn maps with info about where we found them last year. “Like” us on our Blennywatcher Facebook page for updates about our 2014 finds.

Bonaire is a super place for fishwatching because so many different habitats are accessible as shore dives, giving divers the freedom to dive wherever (well, almost), whenever and for as long as we want. Last year, we launched the Bonaire Blenny Challenge - originally a challenge to ourselves, but as others joined, the talk at Buddy Dive became all blennies, all the time. And look! The bar and restaurant have a new name and menu. w00t!

Blennies Bar and Restaurant at Buddy Dive Bonaire

Look! Buddy Dive Resort’s bar and restaurant makeover.

Differences: Orangespotted vs. Tessellated Blenny

Orangespotted Blenny by Ned DeLoach Bonaire Blennywatcher.com

Orangespotted Blenny in abandoned worm hole on dock piling

We’re heading to Bonaire soon and that means blenny hunting! In Ned’s photographs, enlarged on a computer screen, the differences between the Orangespotted Blenny, Hypleurochilus springeri and the Tessellated Blenny, Hypsoblennius invemar are obvious but unmagnified they looked very similar. Both can be found in the same habitat: empty barnacle shells or other small holes on dock pilings and always shallow, where even the gentlest surge makes it almost impossible to lock in and really get a good, long look at them.

Tessellated Blenny Ned DeLoach BlennyWatcher.com

Tessellated Blenny, Hypsoblennius invemar, in its barnacle shell home

I found the Orangepotted right away and on just about every dock piling we visited. Of course, every time I found one, I was sure I had found the much-coveted Tessellated Blenny. Sometimes it took 10 to 15 minutes of hovering at a depth of 2 feet (did I mention the surge) studying cirri (the fleshy appendages above the eyes), colors and spot patterns to determine which blenny was holed up. The Tessellated Blenny has a distinctive, but not always evident, black spot behind the eye – using a light helped highlight that and the colors. My fellow blenny watchers agreed – it was usually easier to take pictures and sort them out back on land.

Occasionally, the fish would dart from their holes and perch out in the open. Like many blennies, they have a definite territory and favorite hangouts. After watching them a while, I could anticipate where they would stop, which gave me the chance to examine them for other differences. The Orangespotted Blenny has several dark bands toward the rear of its body that are absent on the Tessellated Blenny.

Orange-spotted Blenny Hypleurochilus springeri Ned DeLoach BlennyWatcher.com

Orange-spotted Blenny (Hypleurochilus springeri) has banding near the tail

Tessellated Blenny by Ned DeLoach Blennywatcher.com

Tessellated Blenny out of its hole. Note dark mark behind the eye.

Last year, I made a Bonaire blenny map with the sites where we found different species and even found a few takers for the Bonaire Blenny Challenge. It will be fun to hunt for them again this year; we’ll post our results here so check back soon.

Fangs!

This is why they are called Fangblennies (video frame capture)

This is why they are called Fangblennies! Dr. William Smith-Vaniz’s 1976 monograph, The Saber-toothed Blennies, Tribe Nemophini, was a must-read when we started diving in the Indo-Pacific many years ago, but it was the cover of his publication (see below) showing the recurved canine [...]