Little Fish with the Hollywood Lips

Big-lip Damsel, Cheiloprion labiatusNovember 2015, Lembeh Strait, Indonesia ~ Cheiloprion labiatus, the Big-lip Damsel, fascinates me. How have we managed to dive throughout its range for so long without ever noticing it? Last month, our friend Janet Eyre noted several during a REEF fish survey in Lembeh Strait and pointed them out. Damselfishes are ubiquitous on the reefs we visit but the ones that usually catch my eye are brightly colored juveniles. By the time the Big-lip Damsel develops its Hollywood lips, it is drab brown; definitely not flashy.

Why a fish would evolve with such an odd-looking feature made sense when we learned what it eats. While some damsels pick plankton and others feed on algae and/or benthic invertebrates, the Big-lip Damsel feeds on the tentacles of the polyps of Acropora corals. Each tiny, fleshy tentacle of this stony coral is surrounded by the sharp, skeletal part of the corallite – no problem for the Big-lip Damsel.

Big-lip Damsel in coral thicket

Video frame capture: Big-lip Damsel tucked into its Acropora thicket

Ensconced in the Acropora thickets it feeds upon, it really has no reason to leave the protection of the coral, making it easy to miss but once we had a search image for the fish, we were able to takes others back to see them. The Big-lip Damsel has a big range: from Sri Lanka to Vanuatu and from the Philippines down to Australia, so we’ve had plenty of chances to see it but it was just “off our radar” – no telling what other fascinating animals we’re overlooking. Here’s some video:

Lembeh 2015 Portfolio – Part 2

Mandarinfish trio in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia

A seemingly congenial afternoon gathering of male Mandarinfish precedes their nightly ritual of highly competitive courtship confrontations.

Lembeh Strait Part Two, November 2015 ~ Here is the second installment of favorite photos from our two-week stay at Eco Divers Resort Lembeh. Friends who visited Lembeh earlier reported unseasonably cold water and strong winds so we were bracing for the worst but as luck would have it, the wind died and water warmed just before we arrived at the end of October.  We have dived here in every month of the year but this month the bottom seemed more interesting than usual – maybe it was the cooler summer. Just coming off the publication of the second edition of Reef Fish Identification: Tropical Pacific, Ned was tuned into fishes but there seemed to be more octopuses and nudibranchs too. We left in the best way to leave a place: wishing we had one more day to go back and see that jawfish/blenny/flasher wrasse just one more time.

A thumb-sized Poisonous Ocellate Octopus, Amphioctopus siamensis, on high alert as an Algae Octopus approaches:

Poisonous Ocellate Octopus on high alert


The Algae Octopus, Abdopus aculeatus, dancing across the bottom:

Algae Octopus, abdopus aculeatus


The Ocellate Octopus flees…

Poisonous Ocellate Octopus flees from another octopus


… to safer terrain:

Poisonous Ocellate Octopus lands after fleeing from another octopus


A scientifically undescribed one-inch jawfish leaps from its sand burrow. Although we could see these tiny jawfish jumping all around him, Ned had decided, after watching them on an earlier dive, that he had to just select one individual and work it. He spent an hour with this little fish:

Undescribed jawfish in Lembeh Strait


A scientifically undescribed Flabellina nudibranch:

A scientifically undescribed Flabellina nudibranch


A scientifically undescribed Godiva nudibranch:

A scientifically undescribed Godiva nudibranch


Funeral Jorunna, Jorunna funebris, nudibranch:

Funeral Jorunna, Jorunna funebris


Instead of the traditional topknot of sponge, this Redspot Sponge Crab, Lewindromia unidentata, was carrying a clipped piece of soft coral:

Redspot Sponge Crab, Lewindromia unidentata


At the base of a soft coral, a squat lobster:

Squat lobster


A decorator crab adorned with hydroid polyps:

Fairy decorator crab


A Whitebelly Toby inflates with water to thwart being swallowed by a lizardfish:

Lizardfish trying to eat a toby


Over the years of watching the behavior of squid and cuttlefishes, we’ve never actually made physical contact with one. After being followed almost the entire dive by an overly friendly Broadclub Cuttlefish, Anna extended her hand and much to our surprise, it eased forward and stroked her hand:

A cuttlefish touching diver's hand


A False Cleanerfish, Aspidontus taeniatus, exposes its fangs in an effort to deter predators from its egg nest:

False Cleanerfish, Aspidontus taeniatus


A sesame seed-sized mysid (Crustacea: Mysida):

Mysid (Crustacea: Mysida)

We’ll be back soon with more favorites from our travel this year. Be sure to “like” our Blennywatcher Facebook page and check out our Blennywatcher YouTube Channel.

Lembeh 2015 Portfolio – Part 1

Coconut octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus

Coconut Octopus— a Lembeh classic—curls inside a large bivalve shell.

Lembeh Strait—Once Again! Part One, October 2015 ~ The narrow 12-mile stretch of water separating Lembeh Island from the large island of Sulawesi in Indonesia is home to one of the Earth’s most diverse displays of natural selection and symbiosis above or below water. Even after more than 20 visits spanning 16 years, the ever-changing carnival of creatures inhabiting the black sand bottom never ceases to surprise, delight and astound us.

Making our two-week stay at Eco-Divers Resort Lembeh even better, we were joined by divers from Germany, Australia, Spain, Russia, the US and England who, like us, are irrepressibly drawn to the living world. And, of course, Lembeh, once again came through in gangbuster fashion.

This gallery of favorites will be followed by a second installment from our Lembeh trip, and in a later post we will detail the flasher wrasse currently hybridizing in the Strait.  If you haven’t already done so, please be sure to “Like” our Blennywatcher Facebook page for more images and videos from our dives.

With its yolk sac nearly depleted and chromatophores beginning to appear, a larval squid, the size of a grape seed, prepares to enter the world:

Unidentified squid embryo in egg case, Lembeh, Indonesia


A Cockatoo Waspfish nestles in the bed of scroll algae blanketing the shallows at Serena Besar:

Cockatoo Waspfish, Ablabys taenianotus


The aptly-named Big-Lip Damsel plucks polyps from Acropora coral thickets where it makes its home:

Big-lip Damsel, Cheiloprion labiatus


A well-camouflaged Warty Frogfish yawns for the camera:

Warty Frogfish, Antennarius maculatus


The headshield slug, Micromelo undata—a circumtropical bubble snail we’ve been hunting for years:

Miniature Melo, Micromelo undata


At night a Spanish Dancer nudibranch, the size of a platter, comes out of hiding and slips across the bottom at Nudi Falls:

Spanish Dancer nudibranch, Hexabranchus sanguineus

When not hanging over the side of the Spanish Dancer grabbing bits of detritus, three hitchiking Emperor Shrimp rest in their host’s gill structure:

Emperor Shrimp, Periclimenes imperator on a Spanish Dancer nudibranch


A Grape Doto nudibrach with eggs ribbons—another first sighting for us:

Doto nudibranch with eggs


An undescribed sand octopus:

Unidentified octopus in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia


A quarter inch of cute in the form of a sand-dwelling Siphopteron:

Unidentified Siphopteron in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia


A Filamented Flasher Wrasse pauses during the frantic throes of courtship to have parasites plucked by a juvenile Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse:

Filamented Flasher Wrasse, Paracheilinus filamentosus


A wary young Comet Fish caught in the open quickly slips back into the shadows of a crevice:

Comet, Calloplesiops altivelis


A Morrison’s Dragonet flushes red from combat:

Morrison's Dragonet, Synchiropus morrisoni

Male Morrison’s Dragonets resort to a mouth-to-mouth brawl after repeated, side-by-side fin displays failed to establish dominance:

Dragonet fight! Morrison's Dragonet, Synchiropus morrisoni


A Sea Pen Crab watches the world go by:

Porcelain crab on a sea pen

We’ll be back later this week with Part 2 of our Lembeh 2015 Portfolio.


Raja Ampat Blenny Portfolio

Throatspot Blenny, Nannosalarias nativitatus head close-up

Indonesia, October 2015 ~ Here is our latest Raja Ampat Blenny Portfolio. We just returned from a dive trip aboard the Dewi Nusantara in Raja Ampat in eastern Indonesia, where we photographed some old favorites and added a few species to our life lists, like the very cool Throatspot Blenny, Nannosalarias nativitatus (above) and the Spotted and Barred Blenny, Mimoblennius atrocinctus (below). These blennies like areas of high current and/or surge and we found them at depths ranging from 3 to 15 meters.Spotted and Barred Blenny, Mimoblennius atrocinctus


After our guide Yan found the Spotted and Barred Blenny, we decided to get out of our comfort zone and spend most of a dive in raging current and strong surge up on the tops of bommies at a depth of 1 to 2 meters – that’s where some of these little cuties make their homes.  The lead photo in this post is a Throatspot Blenny and we didn’t really understand the common name until Ned shot the one below and we could really see the spot:Throatspot Blenny, Nannosalarias nativitatus portrait


On a morning dive near the Equator islands, I spotted a pair of courting Largemouth Triplefins, Ucla xenogrammus. The female is rather nondescript but the male, in its courting colors is quite remarkable:Largemouth Triplefin, Ucla xenogrammus in courting colors


This young Bluestriped Fangblenny, Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos, mimics the Bluestriped Cleaner Wrasse. They become markedly more yellow as they mature:Bluestriped fangblenny, Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos


When I first saw this group of Striped Fangblennies, Meiacanthus grammistes, I thought there might be some courtship going on but after following them for a while, it looks like they were just being social. We don’t often see them in tight groups like this:Striped Fangblenny, Meiacanthus grammistes


I found this very large (5 inches/ 12.5 cm) Ceram blenny, Salarias ceramensis, at Pulau Dayang near Batanta in only one meter of water. It took most of a dive for it to get used to us so Ned could take this shot. I guess a blenny doesn’t get to be that big unless it is very wary or very lucky. While we were waiting for Ned to get the shot, Yan and I scrutinized every bit of rubble nearby and Yan found two very tiny blennies of the same species – they were so cute –  only an inch long.Ceram blenny, Salarias ceramensis


The very beautiful and animated Tailspot Coralblenny, Ecsenius stigmatura. We saw so many of these on one dive site in Wofo that we named the site, 10,000 Tailspots:Tailspot Coralblenny, Ecsenius stigmatura


It was fun to see an Earred Blenny, Cirripectes auritus. We saw this same species in Japan this past summer:Earred Blenny, Cirripectes auritus


The Rhinoceros Triplefin, Helcogramma rhinoceros, has a very descriptive name: Rhinoceros triplefin, Helcogramma rhinoceros close-up


Our friend Lynne Van Dok found this outrageous Triplespot Blenny, Crossosalarias macrospilus, on the famous Bird Wall in Aljui Bay, Waigeo. This is not a particularly rare blenny but this one is one of the most beautiful ones we’ve seen this year:Triplespot Blenny, Crossosalarias macrospilus portrait


We close with one of Ned’s favorite blennies, the Redspotted Blenny, Blenniella chrysospilos. Just like the ones we shot in Fiji earlier this year, this blenny was high up on a shallow bommie in an impossible surge:Redspotted Blenny, Blenniella chrysospilos