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.
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, 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, 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!
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.
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.
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……
A Sargassumfish, one of the Bermuda species featured in our Alert Diver article
When we travel, I’m often accused of taking the whole house with me. In the case of hermit crabs, they do carry their homes. This one was traveling in a less conventional home. You can watch my video of a hermit crab changing shells and this one on my YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LJqEW756-Y