More Fishy Cuteness: The Signal Goby

Crabeye Goby, Signigobius biocellatus Ned DeLoach Blennywatcher.comHere is your dose of fishy cuteness: The Signal Goby, a.k.a., Crabeye Goby, a.k.a., Twinspot Goby. Not only fun to watch, this fish has some pretty curious reproductive behavior, as we learned a few years ago.  Signigobius biocellatus feeds by sand-sifting so we find them just off reefs or near shorelines in silty, nutrient-rich sand. We have seen them from Palau through Indonesia, so they aren’t really rare, but their populations are certainly not dense. Almost always found in pairs, they tend to be a bit wary, springing off quickly to their burrows if we approach too closely.

A few years ago, on a house reef dive at Tawali Resort in Papua New Guinea, I was pleased to find a busy pair that didn’t seem to be disturbed by my presence. Our friend Claire Davies, Ned and I watched for over 90 minutes as the little gobies worked as a tag team, excavating several different burrows with their mouths and rapidly fanning with their tails, pausing occasionally to scoop up a mouthful of sand to feed. My excitement at the dinner table that evening got others fired up about going back to look for them.

Signal Gobies Crabeye Goby Signigobius biocellatus

Watch the video at the end of this post to see the tag team burrow builders in action.

The next day, I led a few friends to the site where we had watched the little gobies the day before but now there was only one! I looked everywhere, but no mate – just a single Signal Goby, bouncing around feeding, as if nothing were amiss. At dinner, we speculated about the disappearance of the fish. Ned said a snapper probably ate it. Yeah, well I suppose that could have happened but this was a fully grown fish that had survived out on the sand long enough to find a mate and dig all those burrows. So if it got picked off by a snapper just as I started observing it, this was incredibly bad timing (for me and the fish). I imagined a family spat or maybe a homewrecking third party (In the Caribbean, we once observed a mated pair of Hamlets break up over a third hamlet and reunite a few days later – there are all kinds of soap operas down on the reef).

Always the optimist, I went back out the next morning to look for it again, but still found just the one. Then at lunch, Claire reported that the missing Signal Goby was back! After quizzing her carefully to make sure she had been in the same spot, I went back to see for myself and sure enough the reunited pair was  bouncing around, digging and pecking at each other. An online search turned up a paper from a 1977 study that explained the disappearance:  after the female lays eggs in a burrow, she seals the male in, releasing him periodically over the next few days to assist with burrow maintenance. Now wouldn’t it be fun to have a “burrow cam” to watch all that! We wrote about our experience in the Winter 2010 issue of Alert Diver: The Peculiar Fate of the Missing Mate and I just reloaded the accompanying video on our Blennywatcher YouTube channel:

Blenny Auction!

Malacoctenus n sp Peter Wirtz BlennyWatcher.com

A lovely blenny awaiting a name (Malacoctenus n sp. by Dr. Peter Wirtz)

Place the winning bid and the right to name this lovely blenny is yours. We are talking about the one-of-a-kind Latinized scientific name; the one by which this fish shall officially be known. Discovered in the Cape Verde Islands and identified as an undescribed species by Dr. Peter Wirtz, the blenny belongs to the genus Malacoctenus, of which only one species was known to live in the Eastern Atlantic. Dr. Wirtz is preparing the formal scientific description but must obtain another specimen to complete the documentation. He is hoping to raise the funding necessary to complete his work by auctioning off the right to name the fish. The auction proceeds will fund the additional travel to the Cape Verde Islands, the field work to obtain another specimen, preparation of the description and its publication.

Funding for science, especially taxonomy, has been increasingly difficult to obtain and auctioning off species names has a number of precedents. For example, in 2007, to raise funding for its Coral Triangle Initiative, Conservation International held a grand event in Monaco to auction naming rights to a number of fishes discovered in Indonesia (see Washington Post article, “New Species Owe Names to Highest Bidder”). German non-profit Biopat offers an online catalog of species awaiting patrons willing to donate funding in return for naming rights (those proceeds are directed to the educational institutions of the discoverers and to field work).

How to name your fish? Dr. Wirtz explains: “You could name the blenny after yourself or after a loved one. When a species is named after a person, the name is given a Latin ending. The ending depends on the gender of the person being honored. For males, the ending is formed by adding the letter “I” and for females by adding the letters “ae.” So if the winning bidder is called John Smith and wants the species named after him, it could be called Malacoctenus johnsmithi.”

The minimum bid is 5,000 US$. If interested in bidding to name the species, contact Dr. Peter Wirtz directly by email via peterwirtz2004@yahoo.com. Dr Wirtz is one of the world’s experts on blennies and has been a helpful resource for our marine life questions. For more information about his books, publications and to view his collection of images, visit his web page at www.medslugs.de/E/Photographers/Peter_Wirtz.htm. The auction ends on December 31, 2013. This could make a wonderful gift for a loved one and at the same time help further science.

Sea Pen’s Ultimate Insult

Carry crab with sea pen Anna DeLoach BlennyWatcher.com

Not much chance for this sea pen to escape (video frame)

A few months ago I posted about Carry Crabs, little crabs of the family Dorippidae that have modified back legs that they use to grip things, living or inanimate, to disguise themselves. Carry Crabs don’t appear to be fussy – one of the first I ever saw was carrying a live nudibranch. Anyway, my Carry Crab post included this screen capture of a crab toting an unlucky sea pen and I have to say that I think being uprooted and hauled around as camouflage by some upstart crab has to be the ultimate insult (video at the end of this post).

While looking at that video, I also ran across some of another sea pen under siege by hungry Armina nudibranchs  That was interesting because the sea pen seemed to uproot itself and start rolling, presumably to escape from the onslaught. I decided to read up a little about sea pens.

Armina eating sea pen BlennyWatcher.com Anna DeLoach

While the Arminas were feeding on the sea pen, it uprooted itself and began rocking (video frame)

Sea Pens, a.k.a., Sea Feathers, are octocorals in the order Pennatulacea. Octocorals are made up of colonial polyps and in the case of the sea pen, the polyps are specialized, for example, the primary polyp develops into the stalk with a bulbous holdfast or root that it buries to anchor it into the soft bottom. If you want a good overview of sea pens, check out the PLOS One open access publication, “The Global Diversity of Sea Pens (Cnidaria: Octocorallia: Pennatulacea)” by Gary Williams, where you can read all about their distribution and read some interesting historical accounts about their natural history. There, I also learned that they are bioluminescent and that the Romans referred to them as “Mentula alata” (winged penis) – always good to know things like this for dive boat chitchat.

Porcelain crab filter feeding on sea pen BlennyWatcher.com

This sea pen was a porcelain crab condo!

Crab on sea pen BlennyWatcher.com Anna DeLoach

I plead guilty to giving sea pens no more than a passing glance to look for little crabs and shrimp that live symbiotically with some of them, but intend to spend more time looking at them on my next dives. Here, posted to our YouTube BlennyWatcher Channel, is my collection of sea pen observations, including some spawning:

Zingaro

Arrow Blenny Ned DeLoach BlennyWatcher.comLucayablennius zingaro. When I first learned the scientific name of the odd little Arrow Blenny my curiosity was piqued. Ned and I were living in Bimini at the time so Lucaya, as in Lucayans, the first inhabitants of the Bahamas, was a familiar term, but I had to look zingaro up in the dictionary. It is Italian for Gypsy and we liked the sound of it and joked if we had another son we would name him Zingaro DeLoach and he would wander the world. This was back in the mid-90s, the pre-online reference days and by the time we got back to the Rosenstiel Library, I had forgotten all about pulling the paper that formally described the Arrow Blenny and in which the origin of the name was documented.

In 2004, we began working with Stan Waterman on the publication of his memoirs, Sea Salt. In the course of reviewing the wonderful collection of photographs from his many adventures, I noticed the name on the back of his boat: Zingaro. This was the purpose-built dive boat that Stan put much sweat into before sailing from Maine to the Bahamas in 1954 where he ran a charter business for several years. He credits that move with changing his life (visit Stanwaterman.com to see just what an amazing life he leads). I made a mental note to ask Stan if there was any connection between the name of his boat and the Arrow Blenny but forgot each time we saw him. Stan Waterman on his Boat Zingaro, 1957 via BlennyWatcher.comThis week, while reviewing video from Utila, including some footage of the Arrow Blenny, I finally remembered to look it up. Through the miracle of online access to archived journals I found the 1957 paper with the original description,

“A Review of the Blenny Genus Chaenopsis, and the Description of a Related New Genus from the Bahamas” by James Böhlke. And there it was in the paper, “..collected by Charles C. G. Chaplin, Stanton Waterman, Edwin Brownrigg and the writer from Sta. 295, about 1/ mile north of the east end of Green Cay, Bahamas:..” and “…collected from Waterman’s boat, the Zingaro, for which the species is named…”

So finally, after almost 20 years, I had my answer.

When I contacted Stan to ask for permission to use his photo, his comment was vintage Waterman: “You will be amused to know that I had thought of naming my boat, the Polyp (in honor of the coral building block). Then I learned it was also a growth in the alimentary canal of humans. I backed off and named the boat Zingaro, which is Gypsy in Italian.” Amused, yes, because Lucayablennius polyp just doesn’t have the same ring to it!