More Blennywatcher 2013 Favorites

Anchor Tuskfish, Choerodon anchorago, Ned DeLoach,

Yep, we see those teeth! Anchor Tuskfish (Choerodon anchorago), Indonesia

Here are a few more favorite Blennywatcher images from 2013. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will already have seen most of our favorite images, but some didn’t make into a post and others were published earlier this year in Alert Diver, Scuba Diving or Wetpixel. So, we’re ringing in the New Year with a few more photos from 2013, starting with this Anchor Tuskfish displaying quite a mouthful of teeth. The menacing look is quite out of character for this mild mannered member of the wrasse family.


Soft-coral Pipefish, Siokunichthys breviceps, Ned DeLoach

Even with the search image, the Soft-coral Pipefish were difficult to find and follow.

Our first trip of 2013 was a month long journey through Indonesia aboard the Dewi Nusantara that took us from Sorong up to Ternate then back down to Ambon. We were off to a grand start with a new fish for our life lists: the Soft-coral Pipefish, Siokunichthys breviceps. Cruise director Wendy Brown and our guide Yann Alfian had a newly acquired search image for the tiny pipefish and found a few right away on our first dive at Mioskon, setting the bar pretty high for the rest of the cruise.


Waigeo bay with jellyfish

The serene bay in Waigeo was full of pulsing jellyfish.

Lagoon Jellyfish Waigeo, Ned DeLoach, BlennyWatcher.comOne of my favorite areas in the Raja Ampat region of Indonesia is the island of Waigeo and this time, Wendy surprised us with a snorkel trip in a small bay that is full of jellyfish. We spent an hour swimming (cautiously) with the lovely jellyfish and Ned, “Mr. Safety”, reported that they do not sting – he knew this because he tested it by putting his entire hand in the tentacles.


Waigeo wall with pitcher plants Anna DeLoach

The walls were draped with orchids and pitcher plants

The steep walls that line the waterway to the bay are draped with blooming orchids and a climbing variety of the exotic pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant with a leaf that develops into a tendril that ends in the lidded pitcher. The plant secretes nectar that attracts insects into the trap below that is filled with digestive fluids.


Twotone Dartfish, Ptereleotris evides, Ned DeLoach

The closer we got, the closer the dartfish hovered to the hole in the coral head.

Off Halmahera, we photographed this gathering of Twotone Dartfish, Ptereleotris evides (you can just see one Zebra Dartfish hanging out with them). We usually see this fish in pairs, hovering near sandy burrows. This gathering was unusual not only in number, but in the choice of burrow – a tall, nearly hollow coral head.


Blueringed Octopus Ned DeLoach

The Blueringed Octo was on the move

This Blue-ringed Octopus had just emerged from beneath a green and brown crinoid and was in the process of changing color to blend in more closely with the reddish sponge.


Coral Croucher, Caracanthus maculatus, Ned DeLoach

I love the little hairy “wolfman” face of the Coral Croucher.

A two-inch Spotted Croucher, Caracanthus maculatus, peeks from within the branches of its Acropora coral home (Pisang Island, Indonesia).


Atlantic Longarm Octopus, Macrotritopus defilippi Ned DeLoach

This was an extremely animated Atlantic Longarm Octopus.

Back in Florida, we managed two very quick trips to the muck-diving capital of Florida, the Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach. Ned followed this Atlantic Longarm Octopus, Macrotritopus defilippi as it danced across the sand. I missed the action because I was obsessing over a pair of spawning Molly Millers (see Hello Molly).


Mock Hairy Blenny juvenile, Labrisomus cricota Ned DeLoach

A one-inch juvenile Mock Hairy Blenny at the Blue Heron Bridge

As we were exiting from the dive, I stopped to check out the base of a bridge piling and saw a blenny that I did not recognize. I grabbed Ned to take this shot and sent it to Dr. Ben Victor for identification assistance. It turned out to be a juvenile Mock Hairy Blenny, Labrisomus cricota, originally described in 2002. The juveniles look very different from the adults.


Large-eye Toadfish Batrachoides gilberti Ned DeLoach

The cartoon character face of a Large-eye Toadfish, Batrachoides gilberti

In July, we visited Utila in the western Caribbean for the first time. I prepared a “hit list” of species we wanted to photograph and with the help of the guides at Deep Blue Resort, found them all. This Large-eyeToadfish, Batrachoides gilberti, with its impossibly goofy face was quite a sight. We’ll be highlighting the rest of our finds in an upcoming Alert Diver Magazine article.


Circled shrimp Gnathophyllum circellum Ned DeLoach

Circled Shrimp on a Tiger Tail Sea Cucumber

Two summers ago in Bonaire, Bas Tol guided us on an East Coast night dive, where he showed us two Circled shrimp, Gnathophyllum circellum. We had never seen this shrimp any other time, but our friend Ellen Muller, sees them regularly on Bonaire and they had been reported them a few times from the Blue Heron Bridge. We finally found several on our own during a coral spawning night dive this past September during our annual stay at Buddy Dive – they were on Tiger Tail Sea Cucumbers! Their close relative, the Bumblebee Shrimp, is known to feed on the tube feet of echinoderms, so I wonder if the little Circle Shrimp were dining on the Tiger Tails or just along for a ride. (see Scuba Diving Magazine, Critter Hunt: Bumblebee Shrimp)


Christmas Tree Worm Spawning Ned DeLoach

I saw it – I finally saw it – spawning Christmas Tree Worms!

After many years of looking for this, I finally saw spawning Christmas Tree Worms! This had become a bit of a joke among my friends as I always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when others saw it. This phenomenon has been observed at all hours of the day and night on many different moon phases, so predicting it was impossible. It was particularly maddening because the spawning is a slow process, lasting 15 to 20 minutes, so it is not like it would happen just as I looked away. I had resigned myself to never seeing it, then on coral spawning night, I lucked up! The way the eggs or sperm move slowly up and around the spirals of the feathery structures is slow and beautiful.


Ninelined Goby, Ginsburgellus novemlineatus Ned DeLoach

We always find Ninelined Gobies in association with urchins.

We devoted most of our month long Bonaire stay to hunting for blennies, which meant including visits to some of the generally less accessible dive sites in order to cover different habitats. At the southernmost end of the island, in 2 meters depth, we not only found blennies, but many species of gobies, including the adorable Ninelined Goby, Ginsburgellus novemlineatus.


Two-bar Triplefin, Enneanectes deloachorum in nuptial colors Ned DeLoach

Two-bar Triplefin, Enneanectes deloachorum in nuptial colors

And wrapping up 2013, we were very pleased to learn that a blenny – the Two-bar Triplefin was named in our honor: Enneanectes deloachorum. This is a male in its nuptial colors. Dr. Ben Victor described the fish in the paper: The Caribbean Roughhead Triplefin (Enneanectes boehlkei): DNA barcoding reveals a complex of four West Indian sympatric cryptic species (Teleostei: Blennioidei: Tripterygiidae)This was indeed an honor and means a lot to us.


With that, we wish you happy diving, critter hunting and fishwatching in 2014!

Divers Back to the boat Ned DeLoach

Lobster Face

Ornate Spiny Lobster Panulirus ornatus Ned DeLoach

The unintended artistry of natural selection.

It seems that every one of Anna’s and my favorite photos comes with a story attached. Our encounter with a night-prowling lobster is one of my favorites. It took place a few years back in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia where we were spending most of our time diving after dark searching for new crabs and other critters to include in Reef Creature Identification—Tropical Pacific.

Our guide, Liberty Tukunang, and I slipped away from Anna and her bug-buzzing video lights to explore the sand that extended from the reef where our boat—a long, low, green and yellow water taxi made of wood—bobbed 20 feet above. We hadn’t gone far before Anna’s beam waved us back. Returning, we found her staring down a lobster the size of Manhattan that happened to be a species we had been hunting for a long time – Panulirus ornatus, the Ornate Spiny Lobster. Our sudden arrival sent the lobster racing off into the night with Liberty and me on its tail.

But the beast was a thoroughbred. As hard as I kicked I couldn’t keep up with six jointed legs, built for the terrain. Just as I thought all was lost, Liberty, with a burst of speed, drew even and plunged his stainless steel stick into the sand. The lobster was stopped in its tracks. My momentum carried me around and, for a few brief seconds, face-to-face with a face epitomizing the unintended artistry of natural selection.

Blenny Challenge Week 5

Tessellated Blenny Ned DeLoach

Tessellated Blenny, Hypsoblennius invemar, in its barnacle shell home

We found it – the Tessellated Blenny – a great way to end week 5 of our Bonaire Blenny Challenge! Ned teased me for telling the world that we were looking for this fish because he had lost faith in finding it. Although I received reports of previous sightings, all we found were Orangespotted blennies, fish that look similar at first glance. Our friend Ellen Muller took it upon herself to make inquiries and sent me a detailed list of possible locations, compiled by  another local expert Sipke Stapert, which we followed systematically, until finally, success. Ellen is one of the first people we consult when looking for something on Bonaire because if she hasn’t already seen it (which is rare), she knows someone who has (check out her beautiful images at her photo site here).

The last time we saw a Tessellated Blenny, Hypsoblennius invemar, was in the mid-90s and I had forgotten how pretty they are. Like the Orangespotted Blenny, they are small, live in empty barnacle shells and have lots of orange to brick colored spots. The Tessellated has a distinctive dark spot just behind the eye. For my old eyes, it takes a minute of close examination with a light to verify that the spot is present and sometimes I still called Ned over to what ended up being another Orangespotted Blenny. Viewed close up, either with a good camera or my handy SubSee Magnifier, other differences, such as the shape of the cirri and the spot patterns, are evident between the two species. An interesting note: The Tessellated Blenny is native to Venezuela, Colombia and the Lesser Antilles and considered introduced (nonindigenous) throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the coast of southeast Florida (ref. USGS nonindigenous fact sheet).

Hairy Blenny Ned DeLoach

Hairy Blenny, Labrisomus nuchipinnis, in its courting colors

The Hairy Blenny, Labrisomus nuchipinnis was everywhere. We saw them, ranging from 2 to 6 inches long, on every shore dive we made. Most were not particularly shy, allowing us to get really good looks. They were usually under and around the very shallow shore rocks but on one occasion, we found two high up on a dock piling in the middle of a prolonged battle – presumably over a female, since one sported courting colors.

Redlip Blenny Ned DeLoach

Redlip Blenny, my first blenny love.

Our last image from this month’s hunt is the Redlip Blenny (Ophioblennius atlanticus). This was the first blenny I learned to identify when I started diving and though common in some places, is still among my favorites. There are a lot of them in Bonaire and still much fun to watch.

We have had a super time on Bonaire and thanks to all our naturalist friends here, have had a very successful blenny hunt. I hand-drew two maps of where we saw many blennies this year: one of the blennies of Buddy Reef (17 species from the sea wall to the reef) and one of the Bonaire blennies from sites around the island. I left both the Buddy Reef and island blenny maps with Augusto Montbrun, Buddy Dive Resort’s Dive Operations Manager and a copy of the island map with Susan Porter of Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy. If you are visiting Bonaire soon, look them up for the info – or – ask around – there are quite a few other blenny aficionados on the island who know where to find the fish. We did see a lot of other things this month, including octopus, cool razorfish behavior and, dare I say it, gobies. So stay tuned for more. And to our Bonaire friends, (I like Douglas Adams and have always wanted to quote him):  So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Bermuda Daydream

Bermuda Yellowhead Wrasse Ned DeLoach

In Bermuda, the Yellowhead Wrasse is called a Redback

Isn’t this Yellowhead Wrasse from Bermuda gorgeous? Even though Bermuda shares many of the same species with the rest of the western Atlantic, the island’s geographical isolation has led to some interesting variations. For example, in Bermuda the terminal phase Yellowhead Wrasse has a red back – as can be seen in the photo above. In fact, their common name for this fish is Redback.

Bermuda REEF LIfe app iTunes

All proceeds benefit the Bermuda Zoological Society

Earlier this year, our friend Ron Lucas sent news about the Bermuda Reef Life HD Apple IOS app that was developed for the Bermuda Zoological Society (BZS). It was adapted from Ron’s book, Bermuda Reef Portraits with assistance on fish identification and editing by another good friend and expert REEF surveyor, the lovely Judie Clee (one of the best ever ambassadors for both Bermuda and the oceans). I bought the app, not just because all the proceeds benefit BZS, but also because I was pulling video for a public aquarium project and it proved quite useful for giving me all I needed to know about Bermuda fish and the popular dive sites we had visited. Click here  or on the image to the left to go to the iTunes store to learn more or purchase the app.


The Puddingwife wrasse, pastel colored in the Caribbean, is brilliant blue, green and lavender in Bermuda. Normally very shy in other areas, a Bermuda Puddingwife will swim right up to divers. Ron shared this great shot of a Puddingwife in action, right after it grabbed an urchin. In addition to beautiful fish, Bermuda has some stunning hard coral reefs and judging from the photos of some bays the morning after their annual coral spawn, they must be quite healthy.

Puddingwife eating by Ron Lucas

Ron Lucas captured this awesome shot of a Puddingwife just after it grabbed an urchin (from Bermuda)

Bermuda is where we go to photograph life in the Sargassum (see our Spring 2013 Alert Diver article here), where I get to go bottle hunting (some photos of my collection here) and where we always have luck with juvenile fishes, like 2-inch Black Groupers and tiny Hogfish. Ned and I have led two REEF Field surveys there but there is also an active local fish survey team, BREAM, who have not only logged hundreds of fish surveys (and 265 species) to REEF’s database but in their effort to cover all territory have assigned some delightfully fanciful dive site names like Coralicious, Lemon Meringue Reef and Lumpy Bumpy – the names alone make me want to dive them! I’ll pass on Trifling Sandhole Reef, Slimy Sucker Reef and Mini Snake Pit but the names made me giggle. So, on this rainy Monday I’m daydreaming about this lovely little island – a short airline flight and only one time zone away……

Sargassumfish Ned DeLoach

A Sargassumfish, one of the Bermuda species featured in our Alert Diver article