“CLEANING UP”: HOW TINY REEF FISH HELP LARGE FISH


Black Grouper - Arnold - Cleaning Station - Neon Gobies ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

“CLEANING UP”: HOW TINY REEF FISH HELP LARGE FISH

A while ago now, I wrote a detailed post about so-called fish ‘cleaning stations’ – the special spots on the reef where large fish can go to have small fish buff up their scales and floss their teeth. You can read all about it HERE.

I have accumulated a number of new photos from expert scuba diver and underwater photographer Melinda Riger that demonstrate this phenomenon. A big fish with a normally voracious appetite will patiently wait while gobies and other small fry go about their work. This often involves actually entering the mouth of the (as it must seem to them) monster to pick the insides and the teeth clean. There is an extraordinary understanding and trust between the species that means during the operation, the little fish are perfectly safe. Here are some examples, of which the very recent header image of a grouper named Arnold is quite outstanding.

Tiger Grouper + cleaner goby ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyGrouper, Black at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy Tiger Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy Tiger Grouper being cleaned ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

It is not just gobies that attend the fish. Various species of shrimp also volunteer for the job.

Tiger Grouper with cleaning shrimps and goby ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy Grouper being cleaned ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Groupers are not the only species to make use of cleaning stations. Here is a dog snapper at the same cleaning station as the grouper in the header image. Below is a stingray being attended to.

Dog Snapper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Southern Stingray with cleaning gobiesStingray, Southern with cleaning gobies ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

GRAMMATICAL DIGRESSION There is this ‘thing’ about the correct use of the words ‘fish’ and ‘fishes’ in the plural form. The basic principle is simple: ‘fish’ where you are referring to several of the same species; ‘fishes’ where more than one species is involved. I don’t care. My policy is to use ‘fish’ as the plural on all occasions, so I don’t have to think about it. Pedants, look away now.

RELATED POSTS

TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS

BANDED CORAL (‘CLEANER’) SHRIMP

TIGER GROUPER

BLACK GROUPER

All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

“CALLING ELVIS” (THE SQUIRRELFISH, NOT THE MAN)


Squirrelfish Elvis ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

“CALLING ELVIS” (THE SQUIRRELFISH, NOT THE MAN)

How proud The King would be to know that his name lives on in the form of an attractive though sadly unmusical Bahamian squirrelfish. This little guy is at least 5 years old. What is more, he has lived at the same address all that time, defending it against usurpers and protecting himself from predators in its safe depths. Here is the loveable little Elvis photographed at home between 2012 and 2016 (header image), the master of his own underwater Graceland…

Squirrelfish (%22Elvis%22) ©Melinda Riger GB ScubaElvis the Squirrelfish ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba Squirrelfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba Squirrelfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The reason that Elvis has such large eyes is that these fish are mostly nocturnal, and (apart from when Melinda is out with her camera), he and his friends spend most of the day either at home, or in crevices, small rock caves, or under ledges. However, here are a couple of shots of Elvis out and about, enjoying some quality time among the corals.

Squirrelfish (Elvis) ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaSquirrel Fish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

ROLLING HARBOUR MUSICAL DIGRESSION

I so wanted to add a specific Elvis catalogue ‘Musical Digression’, but try as I might, there is no title in The King’s discography that has any potential for finny nuance or piscine pun value. However, here’s a track from the now tragically unhip Dire Straits on their follow-up album to the phenomenal ‘Brothers-in-Arms’, the much under-rated ‘On Every Street’. I give you… Calling Elvis, a song that cunningly contains as many titles of Presley hits as anyone could ever wish for.

All images: Melinda Riger at Grand Bahama Scuba; cartoon from a sequence on the excellent BCCR Defenses page – learn about camouflage and other fishy self-protection techniques

Nocturnal squirrelfish checks out a parrotfish’s sleeping arrangementscamoSquirrWparrot01

CHEROKEE LONG DOCK: ABACO LANDMARKS (1)


Cherokee Long Dock Aerial (David Rees)

CHEROKEE LONG DOCK: ABACO LANDMARKS (1)

Cherokee Long Dock has a significant claim to prominence on an Island that has, with its Cays, a good few docks to admire. The impressive 770 foot wooden dock is the longest wooden dock in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, as its plaque proudly proclaims. The waters of Cherokee Sound are very shallow in places, and as the tides retreat, so sandbanks appear and the rest is barely covered by the sea. Hence the need arose for a very long dock to serve the very small community of Cherokee.

Cherokee Long Dock, Abaco, Bahamas (Larry Towning 1)Cherokee Long Dock, Abaco, Bahamas (Larry Towning 2)

Before the roads were built – in relatively recent memory – Cherokee was an isolated settlement. There was a shortcut connection by boat to a now-abandoned dock at the nearest community, Casuarina, across the Sound. However, non-tide-dependent access from the open sea was vital for supply boats and mail boats. Access to the sea was needed by the fishermen.

Cherokee Long Dock 4 (Amanda Diedrick) Cherokee Long Dock 2a (Amanda Diedrick) Cherokee Long Dock 1 (Amanda Diedrieck) jpg

The plaque documents the history of the dock, the damage inflicted by hurricanes, and the ‘countless hours of labour’ by local people- ‘men, women and children’ – to preserve the dock.Cherokee Long Dock: the plaque (Amanda Diedrick)

Royal terns and other seabirds use the dock to rest; and as a safe place from which to fishCherokee Long Dock (Velma Knowles)

Cherokee Long Dock 3 (Amanda Diedrieck)IMG_3013

Photo credits: David Rees and his wonderful drone (header); Larry Towning (2, 3); Amanda Diedrick (4, 5, 6, 7, 9); Velma Knowles (8); last image from a FB friend with thanks and many apologies – I’ve lost my note of who took it…  to be added if possible; short vid from Youtube.

BLUE CHROMIS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (29)


Blue Chromis & Coral ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

BLUE CHROMIS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (29)

The little blue chromis Chromis cyanea will be instantly familiar to any snorkeler or scuba diver on the coral reefs of the Bahamas. These ever-present small fish – 6 inches long at most – are remarkable for their iridescent deep blue colour that flashes as they dart in and out of the coral and anemones of the reef.

Blue Chromis ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Although at first sight  this chromis species – one of many – looks blue all over, adults have a black dorsal stripe and black edging to their fins. They make colourful additions to aquariums, though to my mind they look far more attractive nosing about the reefs foraging for the zooplankton upon which they feed (see header image for details…)

Blue Chromis ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

The blue chromis was the second fish species I encountered on my first ever reef dive, at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve with Kay Politano. The first fish was the endearingly inquisitive sergeant major with its smart black and yellow stripes which came right up to my googles to eyeball me. I loved that, even though my pitiful swimming technique meant that I had plenty of other distractions, not least remembering to breathe. Air, that is, rather than water.

Blue Chromis ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Chromis_cyanea_(blue_chromis)_(San_Salvador_Island,_Bahamas)

SO JUST HOW BIG ARE THESE FISH, COMPARED, SAY, TO A BLUE TANG?

Blue Tang with blue chromis in its wakeBlue Tang with Blue Chromis © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copy

All photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scube, except the penultimate by James St John, taken in San Salvador

 

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (6): THE SAND DIVER


Sand Divers Bahamas ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (6): THE SAND DIVER

Time for another in the WTF? series, featuring weird (begging their pardons) or not very fish-like fish. The Sand Diver Synodus intermedius is a type of lizardfish found in subtropical waters and often around coral reefs. They can grow up to about 18 inches long and a prime specimen might weigh a couple of pounds. The markings are quite variable but one common characteristic seems to be a tendency to look somewhat down in the mouth; and to possess jaws full of tiny sharp teeth.

Sand Diver - ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Sand divers have two rows of teeth on their upper jaw and three rows on their lower jaw. Not content with that, they also have rows of teeth on the palate and tongue. Were they 50 times the size, they would be truly awesome.

Sand Diver ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The rather primitive appearance of the sand diver is explicable from fossils, which show that their forbears  were active in the Jurassic / Cretacean periods.

Sand Diver ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

HOW DO THEY GET THEIR NAME?

Sand divers often bury themselves in the sand with only their head showing. They are so-called ‘ambush predators’, and burial is one method they use. Another is simply to lie on the sandy bottom, or on reef surfaces and wait for passing prey. Their colouring provides very good camouflage.Sand Diver Fish

WHAT’S ON A SAND DIVER MENU?

A good mix of small reef fishes. Bar jacks, blue chromis, wrasses, fairy basslets, small grunts and so forth. At their own level they are quite fearsome predators.

Sand Diver © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

ARE THEY ON THE HUMAN MENU?

Well, I knew someone would ask that, so I carried out a search. The answer seems to be no. I have found nothing to suggest that they are edible, or that anyone has tried (or if they have, survived to tell the tale). Incidentally, the best way to find out if something is edible by humans is to search for a recipe. There are no sand diver recipes.

Sand Diver ©Fred Riger @ G B Scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba

BAHAMAS REEF CORAL: A COLOURFUL GALLERY


Orange Cup Coral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

BAHAMAS REEF CORAL:  A COLOURFUL GALLERY

The reefs of the northern Bahamas, as elsewhere in the world, are affected by two significant factors: climate change and pollution. Stepping carefully over the sharp pointy rocks of controversy, I’ve avoided the term ‘global warming’ and any associated implication that humans (oh, and methane from cows) are largely to blame for the first factor; but on any view, ocean pollution is the responsibility of mankind (and not even the cows). 

That said, an exploration of the reefs of Abaco or Grand Bahama will reveal not just the astounding variety of mobile marine life but also the plentiful and colourful static marine life – for example the beautiful and Christmassy orange cup coral in the header image. Here are some more corals from the reefs, with a mix of sponges added in. 

Giant Star Coral & Rope Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyCorals ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Corals ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copySea Fans & other corals ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

This rather intriguing photo shows a hermit crab’s conch home that presumably the occupant grew out of and left behind in the delicate coral branches as it went search of a more spacious shell dwelling.Coral & conch ex crab home 1380179_645156602172399_300806994_n copy

Credits: All these wonderful photos are by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; tendentious reef health observations are mine own…

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (5): THE FILEFISH


Scrawled Filefish ©Melinda Riger @ GBS

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) 5: THE FILEFISH

The jocularly-named WTF? series is designed to shed an underwater spotlight on some of the odder denizens of the coral reefs and surrounding waters. I don’t want to earn a reputation for being ‘lookist’, but frankly the appearance of some of these creatures – I give you BATFISH or FROGFISH or REMORAS as examples – is baffling. The filefish group is not as extreme as some in the downright weird category, but if you see one you might just find yourself muttering into your facemask “wtf?”

Scrawled Filefish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Filefish (Monacanthidae) are found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. They are related to triggerfish, trunkfish and pufferfish, and have regional names that include leatherjacket, foolfish, and shingle. There are more than 100 species of filefish, of which only a few are found in Bahamian waters. The species featured here are a mix of scrawled, white-spotted and orange-spotted filefish.

Filefish White-spotted ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

HOW DID THEY GET THE NAME?

In the image above, you can just see a flattened spine on top, above the eye and pointing backwards. This is the ‘retracted’ state. There is a small secondary spine that serves to prop up the main spine when it is in the upright position. This is it seems, the file – although the Greek-derived family name Monacanthidae literally means ‘one thorn’. So why isn’t it a thornfish, you may well ask. And I may well not respond.

This filefish’s ‘spine’ seems to have flopped over to one sideWhite Spotted File fish

These fish have snouts with small mouths and specialized teeth with an inner and outer set on each jaw. They are to an extent shapeshifters, and can quickly make themselves appear larger for defensive purposes. In some individual species, there are marked differences in body shape and coloration.

An orange-spotted filefish with its spine erect, making for a cave – a place of safetyFilefish, Orange Spotted ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

The fins of a filefish are small, and they are rather sedate swimmers. Sometimes they simply like to drift with their heads pointed downwards, eyeing patches of seagrass or seaweed for prey. Some species are largely vegetarian. Others eat small invertebrates. Some even feed on corals. Their predators – especially  the juveniles –  include tuna and dolphins (mahi-mahi).
ADDITION Capt Rick Guest has helpfully expanded on juvenile filefish: “The juveniles hang under sea weed and flotsam eating small shrimps and crabs there. They, in turn become food for Mahi and other pelagic fish. The main thing with these guys is that the bigger they are, the more likely they are to be Ciguateric”.
220px-Coryphaena_hippurus
At his suggestion I will write a post about the  problem of the Ciguatera disease when I have had some time to do the research.

Scrawled File Fish

ARE THEY EDIBLE?

Good question. The answer, broadly is yes, though I don’t know if that applies to all species of filefish. They are certainly eaten in large quantities in the Far East. I don’t know about the Bahamas or the wider Caribbean. If anyone does, could you very kindly add a comment to this post. Recipes welcome!

Scrawled Filefish

All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba