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!
A male Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas) in its nuptial (courting) colors
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.
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:
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.
This 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.
Above: 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:
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:
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:
Ned shot dozens of photos of the Tessellated Blennies on the blenny condo but this is my favorite. I wuv de widdle toofees:
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.