Dominica Fishes – Part 2

Juvenile Queen Angelfish ( Holacanthus ciliaris) Dominica

A Juvenile Queen Angelfish ( Holacanthus ciliaris) gives Ned a quick look.

Dominica 2014 ~ Two of our recent posts have been about our visit to Dominica in the eastern Caribbean. There were too many photos for one post, so this is Dominica Fishes – Part 2. The lizardfish below is a Sand Diver, Synodus intermedius. Just after entering the water at one of our favorite Dominica reefs, Danglebens Pinnacles,  I saw Ned make a dash for the sand down at 80 feet. He had seen the Sand Diver sitting very still, with its mouth wide-open. This could only mean one thing: it was being cleaned. Fish often flee from their cleaning stations as soon as divers approach, but Ned is a master at knowing just how close he can get and he was able to capture the tiny Pederson’s Cleaning Shrimp as they worked their way around, removing parasites from the mouth and gills of the fish.Lizardfish being cleaned by shrimp - Dominica

One of my favorite finds of the trip was this juvenile Longspine Squirrelfish (Holocentrus rufus). We were making a night dive to count fish for REEF and our group, in typical surveying fashion, was spread up and down Champagne Wall. On the way back to the boat, I decided to explore the grass bed just off the reef, when a silvery/blue flash caught my eye. Wow, bright neon orange eyes with a metallic blue back – this was unlike any fish I had seen before and I had no camera and there was no diver with camera in sight and no one saw me signaling wildly for ten minutes for someone – anyone – to come take a look. Finally, Mike Poe showed up to save the day. Back at the resort, Cassandra Neal immediately called it as a juvenile Longspine Squirrelfish, based on the dorsal fin, which was not really visible to the naked eye but showed up beautifully in Mike’s photo. Dr. Ben Victor confirmed it, saying the tiny fish had likely just settled.  Juvenile Longspine Squirrelfish (Holocentrus rufus) - Dominica

Ned spotted this five-inch long juvenile Bluespotted Cornetfish (Fistularia tabacaria) as it was drifting in open water, heading for the lone gorgonian out on the sand plain. Tiny and wispy, it disappeared into the feathery gorgonian – I was hoping to see it the next day when we returned to the site, but it was either too well camouflaged or had moved on.Juvenile Bluespotted Cornetfish (Fistularia tabacaria) - Dominica diving

We didn’t see as many Yellowface Pikeblennies as we did on 2011, but we’ve learned that populations come and go and tend to be larger when the water is warmest: Yellowface Pikeblenny (Chaenopsis limbaughi) Dominica

The Mutton Hamlet (Alphestes afer) is another good sighting for fishwatchers. This is where common names can be so confusing. The Mutton Hamlet is a seabass but is not a hamlet like the ones we are usually referring to in the genus Hypoplectrus (which are also seabasses). Mutton Hamlet (Alphestes afer) - Dominica

Another fish that is more commonly seen in the eastern Caribbean is the Spotted Snake Eel (Ophichthus ophis), usually seen during the day with just their heads protruding from the sand.Blackspotted Snake Eel (Ophichthus ophis), - Dominica diving

A fish list wouldn’t be complete without frogfish. Our guides showed us quite a few but this Longlure Frogfish, perched in a colorful sponge was the prettiest. Its lure, at the end of a modified dorsal fin spine is used to attract other fishes, which the frogfish hoovers in with a very fast gulp. Longlure Frogfish (Antennarius multiocellatus) - Mike Poe

Check in with us next week when we share finds from Dominica’s grass beds. 

Blenny Haiku

April 17th is  National Haiku Poetry Day and to celebrate, we offer Blenny Haiku. Please, no judging or heckling –  just having a little fun here – but feel free to contribute your own by commenting at the end of this post.

Fangblenny in holeSneaky fangblenny

In cleaning stations you lurk

No do-gooder, you


Spinyhead Blenny, Acanthemblemaria spinosaSpinyhead blenny

Often misidentified

As Secretary


Hairtail Blenny Xiphasia setiferHairtail, Eel, or Snake?

Xiphasia setifer

Latin name trumps all


Filament Blenny, Emblemaria hyltoniFilament Blenny

Reside in holes on deep walls

More common than thought


Longhorn Blenny Hypsoblennius exstochilusCool Longhorn Blenny

Found in shallow, surgy zones

but worth the bruises


Redlip Blenny, Ophioblennius atlanticusRed lipped blenny poised

No fear of scuba divers

Like king of the reef


Dominica: Invertebrates

Onuphis sp. Ned DeLoach Blennywatcher.comDominica, February 2014 ~ Poring through the new copy of Reef Creature Identification between dives, our guides Tony and Imran mentioned that they could find Onuphis worms, specifically, an undescribed species that we had never personally seen before. Tony showed us one at the very end of a fish survey dive and in the excitement, ahem, all air was consumed from certain tanks. The site was shallow and full of other interesting things so plans were made to return the following week to photograph this tantalizingly beautiful creature. We’re saving the adventures of Team Worm for a future article, but the above image gives you an idea of why we were so excited.

Bumblebee Shrimp, Gnathophyllum americanum Ned DeLoachTwo years ago, we found many Bumblebee Shrimp but almost always under and around urchins. This time we found the odd little quarter-inch shrimp on nearly every sea cucumber we examined but hardly any in association with urchins (and Dominica has a lot of urchins). Bumblebee Shrimp, Gnathophyllum americanum, feed on the tube feet of echinoderms (urchins and sea cucumbers belong to the same phylum: Echinodermata) so this must have been sea cucumber season for the little epicures.

Channel Clinging Crab Ned DeLoachOrange Ball Corallimorph (Corynactis caribbaeorum) Ned DeLoachNight dives are a good time to see invertebrates that venture out under cover of darkness to feed. I tend to take Channel Clinging Crabs, Mithrax spinosissimus, for granted – these large (5-to-7 inch carapace) crabs are not particularly uncommon; however I probably saw more on our one night dive than I have seen in all other Caribbean locations put together – there were a lot of them. Same goes for Orange Ball Corallimorphs. These are difficult to show to other divers because the second we hit them with light, they retract their translucent tentacles.

Atlantic White-spotted Octopus Octopus macropus Ned DeLoachIn contrast, on the same night dive, I saw my first Atlantic White-spotted Octopus, Octopus macropus. There is an octopus species in the Pacific that looks very much like this one. It tends to be the most wary and shy of any that we encounter so it was very interesting that this Caribbean species behaved much the same way.

Pontonia mexicana Pen Shell shrimp Ned DeLoachThere were a lot of pen shells in the shallow areas of both grass and sand. Since he had never photographed one, Ned suggested that we hunt for the Pen Shell Shrimp, Pontonia mexicana, that lives symbiotically within the shell. That’s all Imran had to hear – he was on it in a flash.

Flamingo Tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum) Mike Poe via Blennywatcher.comSand Dollar with Pea crab Mike Poe via Blennywatcher.comOur dive buddy Mike Poe shared several of his shots: I really like the up-close view of the little one-inch Flamingo Tongue, Cyphoma gibbosum. His shot of a live Sand Dollar is interesting – you can see a little white Sand Dollar Pea Crab, Dissodactylus mellitae, that lives symbiotically with the echinoderm.

Urchin Crab Gnathophylloides mineri Mike Poe via Blennywatcher.comAnother interesting find was tiny Urchin Shrimp, Gnathophylloides mineri, living on sea urchins. They feed on the epithelium of sea urchin spines and blend in so well, that it usually takes a while to see them.

Brachycarpus biunguiculatus Twoclaw shrimp Ned DeLoachWe end with one of my favorite shots, taken by Ned. I think this Twoclaw Shrimp, Brachycarpus biunguiculatus, rivals the fishes featured in our previous post, for cutest critter on Dominica. Check back soon, for more of our favorite sightings on last month’s visit to Dominica, including cool finds in the grass beds.

Dominica 2014

Young Balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus) were everywhere!

Dominica! When Ned and I were asked to lead a 2014 REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) field survey, we suggested the lush tropical island in the eastern Caribbean. Our 2011 visit with friends, including the Wilk family (of ReefNet fame) and Dr. Ben Victor, had been so productive [...]