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 teeth of the lower jaw, that turned these cute little reef fish into the stuff of nightmares and inspired my quest to see them for myself.
Saber-toothed, a.k.a., fangblennies, with the exception of one species in the eastern Pacific, are found in the Indo-Pacific. Unlike other blennies, most saber-toothed blennies have a swim bladder and can often be seen swimming up in the water column. They get their common name from the well developed, backward pointing canine teeth in their lower jaw that are used for defense.
The Saber-toothed Blennies, Tribe Nemophini by Dr. William Smith-Vaniz, cover image used with permission
In addition to describing these blennies, Bill collaborated on research of mimetic relationships among blennies and tested the toxicity of fangblenny bites by inducing a couple of different species to bite him on the midriff and arm – yeow! It was noted in one of his papers, “The few people who have accidentally or deliberately been bitten by a Meiacanthus experienced only mild pain, but swelling surrounding the site of the fang punctures indicated a biological response disproportional to the mechanical injury.” That’s all I needed to read to know that this was not the way I wanted to see fangs – blenny wrangling was out and stalking became the name of the game. Roger Steene has a classic shot of a blenny baring its fangs so I knew it was possible to see it, I just didn’t know it would take me 12 years!
I’ve had tantalizing glimpses of the fangs of other species, but this Petroscirtes (I’m pretty sure it is P. breviceps, the Shorthead Fangblenny) living in a bottle in Lembeh Strait, is the closest I have come. It gave me one quick snap and it was enough to get the video frame capture used at the beginning of this post. Ned is still trying to capture this with his camera but you can see from the video, how fast he’ll have to be to get it. You can watch the entire, very quick encounter on this video on our Blennywatcher YouTube channel:
Mimetic Relationships Involving Fishes of the Family Blenniidae, Springer, Victor G., Smith-Vaniz, William F.
Meiacanthus urostigma, a New Fangblenny from the Northeastern Indian Ocean, with Discussion and Examples of Mimicry in species of Meiacanthus (Teleostei: Blenniidae: Nemophini). Smith-Vaniz, William F., Satapoomin, Ukkrit, Allen, Gerald R.
We are still diving in Indonesia, but now back in Internet range with time to post a few observations. One of my recent favorites is the many different looks of the Masked Grouper, Gracila albomarginata. On a dive in the Banda Sea, I noticed a small fish that I didn’t recognize. It was bright purple with lovely red margins on its anal and tailfins. Another I saw had a light, squarish spot on its side, reminiscent of the purple Square Spot Anthias, but it was shyly darting in and around a low coral head – not the behavior or habitat of an anthias – plus it also had a small dark spot near the tail. I wasn’t the only one who noticed these fish and in comparing notes, our friend Dr. Richard Smith who had also noticed the fish, suggested that it might be a young Masked Grouper. That made sense; the squarish spot and dot near the tail just like the adult, but a different color:
On the next dive, our guide Yann pointed out another under a ledge, this one only about an inch and a half long:
Found hiding under a ledge, this juvenile was less than two inches long
Then I found a gray version, about six inches long; the same size as the purple one with the square spot and this one had the faint “mask” like the adult – don’t know what’s going on here – male? female? intermediate?
There were plenty of full sized, fourteen to eighteen-inch adults running around. Until these dives, this was the life stage with which we were all familiar. One of the theories of why many juvenile fishes look so different from the adults is that in territorial species, the tiny, differently colored juveniles pose no threat to the much larger adults, affording them a chance to grow up without being driven away.
An adult Masked Grouper (approx. 16 inches in length)
Coming soon on Blennywatcher: photos from our Banda Sea crossing.
The grass bed at Champagne, one of our favorite dive sites.
This is the last in our series of posts from our recent trip to Dominica. Alternate habitats like sand flats and sea grass beds can be “hit or miss” – we might find all kinds of interesting things or we might wander around for an hour and get skunked. Either way, it is the thrill of the hunt that makes it fun. The grass bed at the site called Champagne was a winner so we ended up diving there 3 days. The Flying Gurnards we saw were some of the prettiest we’ve ever seen:
One of the prettiest Flying Gurnards I’ve ever seen.
A flying Flying Gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans)
One of the animals I was happy to find was the Atlantic Longarm Octopus, Macrotritopus defilippi. The first time we ever saw one was in 2000, on a black sand bottom at the other end of Dominica. We had just visited Lembeh Strait, Indonesia for the first time and had seen our first Mimic Octopus there. To our amazement, the Atlantic Longarm Octopus behaved much the same way, stretching and contorting itself into all kinds of shapes. We chronicled the encounter in the Spring 2001 issue of Ocean Realm Magazine.
The very expressive Atlantic Longarmed Octopus
Our guide Tony surfaced after our first dive to tell us we should make a second dive there to see the batfish and frogfish he found while scouting in the opposite direction. The last one into the water, I trailed behind the group and ran right into a 3-inch, black, Shortnose Batfish. “Here! It’s over here,” I signaled, but Tony was insisting that I join him across the sand to see…the batfish! We ended up seeing five different individuals, including my tiny black one and Ned got this great shot of it extending its tiny lure:
This batfish was tiny, but it knew how to wiggle its lure.
Shortnose Batfish (Ogcocepahlus nasutus) – We saw 5 different individuals in the grass
It pays to look at everything. Our friend Madelyn found this lovely nudibranch, Spurilla sp. in a clump of algae:
Nudibranch, Spurilla sp., in the algae
And there were lots of eels, including a Margintail Conger – a new species for many lifelists. Goldspotted eels seem to fill the niche occupied by Sharptail Eels in other parts of the Caribbean.
Margintail conger (Paraconger caudilimbatus)
Goldspotted Snake Eel (Myrichthys ocellatus)
Lots of juveniles, including Queen Triggers:
A juvenile Queen Trigger (Balistes vetula) hides out in the grass.
And behavior…here’s a young jack, hunting with a Yellow Goatfish. As the goatfish disturbs the bottom with its barbels, the jack dashes in and snaps up tiny fishes and invertebrates:
A young jack shadow feeding with a Yellow Goatfish
I ended last week’s post with a beautiful yellow and orange frogfish, tucked into a similarly colored sponge. In the algae-covered rocks and sand, our guides found two very cryptic frogfish – no beauty contest winners here:
Very well camouflaged frogfish.
A big thank you to our buddy Mike Poe, for sharing some of his photos from the trip. We’re off to Indonesia, with little expectation of access to Internet service, so we’ll post as we can for the next month – watch this space.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
Check in with us next week when we share finds from Dominica’s grass beds.