Dumaguete, Philippines ~ 2015

Tube-building amphipods fightingDumaguete, Philippines, April 2015 ~ I am starting this entry with one of Ned’s photos of tube-dwelling amphipods. These creatures were almost my sole focus during our three weeks of diving, first in Dumaguete, then in Anilao. I didn’t realize the extent of my obsession until I started cataloging video and reading my journal entries – yikes!

This was our second visit to the Philippines. Our first trip in January 2011 was good – we saw ghost pipefishes, nudibranchs, skeleton shrimp, Flamboyant cuttlefish, blennies –  all the things we associate with good critter diving, but the water was cold (to us). Everyone “in the know” told us to come back in April for more of the same, but with warmer water. They were right – the April seas were warmer and the critter population had exploded. We not only saw dozens of ghost pipefishes in every color combination, we witnessed mating ghost pipefish (video at the end of this post), dozens of frogfishes of every color and size, mating Flamboyant Cuttlefish, and added a few fishes to our life lists.

Mating Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Caught in the act – mating ghost pipe fish (video at end of post)

Eggs in pouch of Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Close up of eggs held by female Ornate Ghost Pipefish

In 2011 we saw lots of skeleton shrimp, including many carrying babies (see our Fall 2013 article in Alert Diver, “Skeleton Shrimp: Tough Neighborhood”), but didn’t see the bottom-carpeting swarms that we’d expected. This time, it was impossible to dive anywhere and not see skeleton shrimp.

yellow Skeleton shrimp in Dumaguete, Philippines


Skeleton Shrimp with babies, Dumaguete, Philippines

A skeleton shrimp laden with babies.

In the process of watching skeleton shrimp, which I should note are amphipods, I found their cousins, tube-dwelling amphipods. Amphipods in strange, rubbery tubes, amphipods in tubes covered with grains of sand and amphipods that adorned themselves with sand and bits of detritus – all feeding and fighting and dragging their little amphipod tubes around. I was captivated as is evident by the hours of video I shot, which on advice from Ned, I’ll save for another post.

Tube-building amphipods

Tube-building amphipods everywhere!

There were several sites with good populations of sea pens, which meant there was a good chance we’d find arminas, a type of nudibranch that eats sea pens. And we did:

Armina in sand Dumaguete, Philippines

There were lots of other nudibranchs even though we were told they are more plentiful when the water is colder (been there, done that). This was my favorite – a Nembrotha playing host to a hitchhiking Emperor shrimp.

Emperor Shrimp rides on a Nembrotha nudibranch

Ned was on a sand diver kick. While I obsessed over amphipods, he spent his late afternoon dives watching the males court and fight:

Fighting sand divers Dauin Philippines

Two male sand divers square off

Courting sand divers in Dumaguete, Philippines

A male sand diver displays for a female

My favorite fish sighting was a pair of dottybacks, Pseudochromis moorei:

Pseudochromis moorei, Yellow Dottyback male in Dumaguete, Philippines

A brightly colored male Pseudochromis moorei

Pseudochromis moorei, Yellow Dottyback female in Dumaguete, Philippines

Pseudochromis moorei female

On one dive, I wandered along in the shallows and saw what looked like a group of blennies out in the middle of the featureless sand flat. It did turn out to be blennies – fangblennies – that had descended from their home in a nearby mooring to feed on my beloved amphipods. Oh well, circle of life…

Fangblennies feed on amphipods - Video frame capture

Fangblennies feed on amphipods – Video frame capture

A few years ago, we saw a video from the California Academy of Sciences, showing Ornate Ghost Pipefish mating in their tank at the Steinhart Aquarium so we recognized the behavior when it began and were able to get a little of it on camera. You can click on the video below, or visit our BlennyWatcher YouTube Channel for it and other short marine life observations.

We close with one of Ned’s favs: a sand diver!

Sand diver face from Dauin, Philippines

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:

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!

The Most Photographed Tessellated Blenny in the World

Tessellated Blenny's colorful neck by Ned DeLoachThis is the most photographed Tessellated Blenny in the world and likely the most observed. I am certain of this. I spent hours with this fish and its reefmates –  I think I might have been obsessed. A few days after we arrived on Bonaire for our annual 5-week stay, our friends Allison and Carlos Estape (fellow fish surveyors) stopped by and told us about a site that had Tessellated Blennies (Hypsoblennius invemar) living in the barnacle shells. An abandoned, submerged mooring covered with a complex growth of sponges, barnacles and other invertebrates, this was perfect habitat for Tessellated Blennies. Enchanted by these colorful fish, we visited the site, dubbed the “blenny condo,” again and again regularly finding from 12 to 15 individuals, including one only a half-inch long.

The Tessellated Blenny that started it all Ned DeLoachAbove: another view of the same blenny. Of all the blennies at the condo, this individual had the most developed cirri. It was also the most photogenic, sitting in a barnacle shell that was free of surrounding growth. Over five weeks, Ned and I showed it and the others in the colony to many fishwatchers and photographers – anyone who was willing to spend an hour at eight feet to look at a tiny, 2-inch fish. Although the mooring was attached to the bottom, at a depth of 26 feet, all the blennies I counted were in the top ten feet of water. Looking up, you can see how close the top of the mooring is to the surface:The Bonaire Blenny condo by Ned DeLoach

Hanging out at ten feet could be tough when it was surgy, but we made a number of dawn dives, when the water was calmer and the blennies were particularly active. I was able to distinguish some of the females from the males by their behavior. In many blennies, the nuptial males are colored differently from the females and young, non-breeding males. They are usually site attached, rarely leaving their holes – I think this is because they are either guarding eggs or trying to attract females to lay eggs there. The Tessellated Blennies that never left their holes were the most vibrantly colored and strongly patterned, which led me to believe they were the males. When what I thought was a female approached, the males exhibited a very distinctive head-bobbing behavior, often leaning way out of the hole, like this one:Tessellated Blenny trying to attract a female by Ned DeLoach

I could not tell the difference between the females and young males, but many were running around and getting into frequent fights with each other. When I saw a male going crazy, bobbing up and down like a mini-piston, I was certain the target of his showboating was a female, like this one that tucked itself into a shell after running around the male several times:Tessellated Blenny Female by Ned DeLoach

Ned shot dozens of photos of the Tessellated Blennies on the blenny condo but this is my favorite. I wuv de widdle toofees: The Laughing Blenny by Ned DeLoach

Coming soon: a revised Bonaire blenny map.