Blennies – Fiji Favorites

Redspotted Blenny, Blenniella chrysospilos

Redspotted Blenny, Blenniella chrysospilos

In March, we visited Fiji for the first time since 2005 – ten years – I can’t believe it had been that long! This pretty much made Fiji “new” hunting grounds for me because our last visit was long before the launch of this blog and my quest to see as many blennies as possible. I didn’t see everything I wanted during a week at Lalati Resort and a second week aboard the Nai’a liveaboard dive boat – the Lady Musgrave Blenny still eludes me – but on the last dive of the trip, I did see one of my all-time favorites, the Redspotted Blenny, Blenniella chrysospilos. In fact, there were four of them, scampering around in a screaming current on the 2-meter deep reef top.

Highfin Fangblenny, Petroscirtes mitratus

Highfin Fangblenny, Petroscirtes mitratus

In our previous post, I mentioned seeing the Smooth Fangblenny, Petroscirtes xestus, during a shore dive at Lalati Resort on Beqa Island. The encrusted dock pilings there also house a nice population of Highfin Fangblennies, so we were off to a good start.

Triplespot Blenny, Crossosalarius macrospilus

Triplespot Blenny, Crossosalarius macrospilus

Once out on the Nai’a liveaboard, we visited dive sites that ranged from a mucky low-profile barrier reef to high profile, open ocean bommies. I always thought blennies were fairly site attached, never venturing far from a home reef but I spent a whole dive following a Triplespot Blenny, Crossosalarius macrospilus, as it roamed way beyond what I thought was a “safe” distance from the coral head where I found it. The very uniform polka dot pattern on this particular fish was striking and I understand their markings can be quite variable. On that same dive, I watched a Piano Fangblenny, Plagiotremus tapeinosoma, weave in and out of the anthias that blanketed the side and top of a small bommie.

Piano Fangblenny, Plagiotremus tapeinosoma

Piano Fangblenny, Plagiotremus tapeinosoma

“Mimicry is hard to prove,” Ned warns every time I get all excited about spotting supposed model/mimics.  A couple of years ago, I posted about this in The Blenny and the Bream. In Fiji, I spied the localized Canary Fangblenny, Meiacanthus oualanensis and its proposed mimic, the Fiji Fangblenny, Plagiotremus flavus and guess what was swimming around with them on almost every site where I saw them? Juvenile Bridled Breams, Scolopsis bilineatus, in their yellow phase. Very interesting that the juveniles of this species are found in four different color phases and in Fiji that color is bright yellow, matching the bright yellow of the blennies. A friend just sent more papers about mimicry in fishes, providing more interesting reading about this intriguing topic.

Canary Fangblenny, Meiacanthus oualanensis

Canary Fangblenny, Meiacanthus oualanensis

Fiji Fangblenny, Plagiotremus flavus

Fiji Fangblenny, Plagiotremus flavus

Monocle Bream, Scolopsis bilineatus, yellow variation

Almost always nearby: A juvenile Bridled Bream in its yellow form.

We leave you with two more favorites the Fiji Clown Blenny, Ecsenius fijiensis and the Bicolor Blenny, Ecsenius bicolor. Blennies in the genus Ecsenius are the fishes that make blenny watching fun – once they get used to us, we can spend an entire dive watching them bob and skitter around a reef:

Fiji Clown Blenny Ecsenius fijiensis

Fiji Clown Blenny Ecsenius fijiensis

Bicolor Blenny, Ecsenius bicolor

Bicolor Blenny, Ecsenius bicolor

 

Oh Blenny! (We struck Gold)

Midas blennies (Ecsenius midas) male - by Ned DeLoach

A male Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas)

Pantar, Indonesia (May 2014)  ~  I just saw a blenny that I don’t recognize and you have to go back to see it.  Ned nodded in assent, barely looking up from his laptop. Our liveaboard dive boat, the Dewi Nusantara, was scheduled to remain in this bay for one more day, so I had the evening to pursuade Ned to return to the dive site the next morning instead of exploring another spot. And we had to go back -  because I found the blenny at the end of my dive, when everyone else had surfaced and boarded the tender. There were actually a half dozen of these blennies and they were so animated and distinctly patterned and big – oh blenny!

Male Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas) by Ned DeLoach

A male Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas) in its nuptial (courting) colors

 

Female Midas Blenny by Ned DeLoach

A female Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas) in a typical color pattern

I love blennies, but I am by no means an expert and there are many blenny species that I have never seen, so announcing that I saw one I don’t recognize isn’t necessarily an earth shattering proclamation. But this was a site that we have dived a half dozen times over the past eight years so it was hard to believe we’d missed such a charismatic fish. What was going on? I downloaded the little bit of footage I managed to get and showed it to Ned – we both agreed it looked like a Midas Blenny, but was much larger than the little yellow ones we usually see mixed in and feeding with Anthias in the water column. But Ned did not share my enthusiasm for a return dive and did not tell me why until after we returned the next morning. He said that after he saw my video and the crazy way the fish were swimming he really thought there was no way in hell that he’d get a decent shot.

Midas blennies (Ecsenius midas) courting - by Ned DeLoach

Male Midas Blenny trying to entice a female into laying eggs in his hole

We confirmed my mystery blenny was indeed a Midas Blenny, Ecsenius midas – a male – in its nuptial colors. There was no doubt once we spent an hour watching them – the males did their best to entice females back to their holes in the reef to lay eggs that the males would guard. And Ned got the shots. I’ve loaded a short video on our YouTube Blennywatcher channel or you can watch it by clicking below:

Parrotfish Cocoon

Parrotfish sleeping in a mucous cocoonRecently, during a get-together of diver friends, the subject of parrotfish cocoons came up – I don’t remember why – and surprisingly, several said they had never seen a parrotfish sleeping in a mucous cocoon. After thinking about it, Ned and I realized that in all the hundreds of night dives we’d made, we had only seen it maybe a half dozen times. We encountered it for the first time in the mid-90s off Key Largo while waiting for the coral to spawn. We didn’t see the coral spawn that night, but the parrotfish cocoon made our dive. Mucus, secreted from a gland below the operculum, enveloped the sleeping fish in a protective bubble. And until about four years ago, all I knew about this phenomenon was what was taught when I first started night diving: that the mucous cocoon prevented attacks from nighttime predators like moray eels, by masking the scent of the sleeping fish. That theory was proposed in the 1950s by the scientist (H.E. Winn) who originally described the mucous cocoon of parrotfishes.

In November 2010, marine researchers from the University of Queensland published their findings that proposed another theory behind the mystery of the fishy cocoons: the nighttime covering provides protections from blood-sucking parasites. In tests, when exposed to parasites, 95% of the fish not protected by cocoons were attacked while only 10% of those in cocoons were. They point out that this theory doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with the moray eel predator theory.

Parrotfishes and some species in the related wrasse family sleep at night by bedding down directly on the sand or in holes in the reef, making them ideal targets for parasites that would have a more difficult time attaching to a swimming fish. Although we’ve only seen parrotfishes in cocoons, wrasses like the Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) and some in the genus Pseudocheilinus have been observed sleeping in mucous cocoons both in the wild and in aquariums.

I have posted a short video on our Blennywatcher YouTube channel or you can watch it below. (Note: We originally wrote about this in our June 2011 Critter Hunt column in Scuba Diving Magazine).

Blenny Auction Result

Malacoctenus carrowi Peter Wirtz BlennyWatcher.com

Malacoctenus carrowi by Dr. Peter Wirtz

Meet Malacoctenus carrowi, a newly described blenny known from the Cape Verde Islands in the eastern Atlantic. A year ago, we announced a Blenny Auction to raise funding to enable Dr. Peter Wirtz to collect another specimen and complete the research to formalize the description of the fish, only the second species of the genus Malacoctenus to be known from the eastern Atlantic. As a result, the species has been named to honor Mr. Frank Carrow, whose interest in marine conservation led to his creation and funding of a foundation that supports a broad range of marine conservation activities. The paper, A new species of Malacoctenus from the Cape Verde islands, eastern Atlantic (Pisces Teleostei Labrisomidae) is available online.  For more information about the books, publications and images of Dr. Wirtz, visit his web page at www.medslugs.de/E/Photographers/Peter_Wirtz.htm.

Happy Friday everyone!