BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER


Black Grouper ed ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba 2

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER

The Black Grouper is a large fish of the reefs found in the western Atlantic, particularly in the waters of Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is a solitary species that mostly prefers the shallow waters around coral reefs.

Black Grouper ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

Formerly plentiful, these groupers (like other grouper species) have moved from an IUCN listing of ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near-Threatened’. They have the twin disadvantages of being fished for sport and fished for food. As demand for grouper on the menu rises, so does its vulnerability. The species is described as a ‘slow breeder’, so a depleting population has less chance of sustaining numbers. 

Black Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

An adult black grouper’s diet consists of small fish and squid. Juveniles feed primarily on crustaceans. However, certain tiny reef fish are important to the species as ‘cleaners’. You can read about their significance by clicking CLEANING STATIONS Here are examples of two black groupers receiving attention at the same cleaning station. Both also seem to be giving a ride to REMORAS.

Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Note that this fish has an embedded hook and is trailing a line – one that ‘got away’Grouper, Black, at cleaning station (+ hook) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Despite the name, black groupers are not all black. They have many shades from dark to olive-coloured to pale. I believe the two photos below are of a grouper known as Arthur, a favourite with divers and definitely off the menu… Black Grouper  ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaBlack Grouper 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The tiny bright blue fish in the photo above are Blue Chromis, a regular accompaniment on any snorkel or dive on a reef. I like the colourful little Fairy Basslet in the next photoBlack Grouper © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Now that the NASSAU GROUPER has been awarded a closed season to help maintain numbers, it will be interesting to see if the winter fishing ban is extended to the Black Grouper…

Black Grouper (Arthur) ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

RELATED POSTS

TIGER GROUPER

NASSAU GROUPER

Credits: all photos Virginia Cooper and Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba 

MAPPING ABACO: READ A NOVEL, TALK RUBBISH OR DISAPPEAR


Bahamas van Keulen Map 1728

Bahamas Map – Van Keulen – 1728

MAPPING ABACO: READ A NOVEL, TALK RUBBISH OR DISAPPEAR

I am probably the last person to twig the topological significance of Abaco’s location in the world. An email tipping me off about a TV programme led me to investigate further. There turn out to be 3 ways in which Abaco’s position in the Atlantic Ocean is of special interest. Two are geographic fact; and one is located in the grey area between myth and putative evidence-based supposition (if such a nebulous concept exists…). If everyone knew this already, sorry for being so late into the game. But you get some nice maps to look at, gratis, like the wonderful van Keulen map of 1728 above. About the only marked location on Abaco is ‘Hole Rok’ (now ‘GAP ROK’). For a history of Hole-in-the-Wall in historic maps, click HERE

1. THE DISAPPEARING TRICK?

Until the recent email, I hadn’t taken on board that Abaco is within the Bermuda Triangle. The island and its cays are contained snugly into the 60º tip of the western angle of an equilateral triangle based on Bermuda, Miami and Puerto Rico. The NOAA map below could not be clearer: Abaco is squarely within the triangle, if that is geometrically possible.

Bermuda triangle map NOAA / Google

I wrestled with whether to write an earnest discourse along the lines “Towards a Greater Understanding of Triangle Phenomenology”. Then I thought, Nah! If it’s a myth, what’s the point in examining its credibility. If it’s all true, I would’t want to worry you more than I already have by mentioning it… So you can do the hard graft if you wish by checking out the links below. Or you can just move on to section 2. Or relax in the sun, go fishing, find some nice birds, or have a Kalik or 3. 

THE WIKI ANGLE Excellent potted overview dealing with supposed position, the main ‘unexplained disappearances’, and the possible causes of these – both natural and supernatural. Frankly, this should do it for all but the most persistent, who probably are more widely informed already. 

SCIENCE CHANNEL The top ten Bermuda Triangle theories. Note: may not include your own pet theory of aliens from Planet Tharkron with their Pukotic Missile Rays

HISTORY.COM Comes complete with spooky-music video presentation. NB blurb nails its colours to the mast by using words like ‘Mythical’ and ‘Fanciful’ so if you are a believer you won’t want to go here, I suspect.

TEN WEIRD FACTS An informative video for those who want a bit more sensation.

2. WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH

great+atlantic sandiego.surfrider

Rowing through the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch (sandiego.surfrider)

Abaco also finds itself at the western edge of the Northern Atlantic Gyre. Strictly speaking the Gyre comprises a combination of  four main currents: the Gulf Stream in the west, the North Atlantic Current in the north, the Canary Current in the east, and the Atlantic North Equatorial Current in the south. It is not synonymous with the infamous North Atlantic Garbage Patch, which is contained within the geographical boundaries of the Gyre. The top image gives a broad-brush idea of  the central area of concentration of the Garbage Patch within the Gyre. Abaco looks to be well clear of trouble. But don’t be too optimistic.

North-Atlantic-Garbage-Patch-12Degreesoffreedom-300x204

North Atlantic Garbage Patch (12Degreesoffreedom)

Looking at various sources, there is some variation in the precise boundaries of the Gyre, though Abaco is plainly within it. Q: is it safely beyond the edges of the plastic peril? A: as any resident will know, the naturally pristine beaches tell a tale of constant plastic and other debris brought in on the high tide almost daily. The incidence depends to an extent on weather and wind direction, but the overall picture is of a relentless intrusion of rubbish on golden and white sand expanses. There is an extent to which what the tide giveth, the tide taketh away; and of course many beaches are scrupulously kept clean. NB I’m not trying to propagate anti-visitor publicity – many people will have experienced the same situation elsewhere. 

North Atlantic Gyre Garbage Patch wired_com

North Atlantic Gyre Garbage Patch (wired.com)

The research map above shows that, although the garbage hotspots and warmspots are well away from Abaco, the ever-widening circulating soup of plastic, rubber and metal has reached the island. Abaco is in the pale blue zone. Yellow is not that far off. Imagine what the orange or red areas must be like. This sort of thing:

garbage patch mail.colonial.nte

In some places the junk stacks up to form islands with hills

rubbish_telgraph.co.uk

Texas has become a standard ‘unit’ for large area comparisons. I notice that several sources describe the main area of the NA Garbage Patch in terms of Texas. But how big is that (BIG!)? To get an idea, I created a map overlaying Texas on an area centred on the Bahamas. So, Texas is this big… 

Texas / Bahamas size comparison

I’ve got more about some very specific rubbish to discuss another time, so I’ll leave you with the most interesting piece of marine debris to wash up on the Delphi Beach, a 12 ft ROCKET FAIRING from the Mars ‘Curiosity’ launch! Click link for more details. Rocket Fairing - Mars -Curiosity Launch - Beach Debris - Delphi Club Abaco

 3. A NOVEL PLACE TO BE?

The Sargasso Sea is named for the SARGASSUM seaweed found in large concentrations in the area. Columbus was the first person to sail right across the Sea, in 1492 (well, he and the crews of his 3 ships Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria). He noted the large areas of seaweed that his expedition’s ships had to plough through. Eventually he made landfall on San Salvador, Bahamas.

This fine Krümmel map from 1891 shows the extent of the sea, and you’ll see that its western fringes reach the ocean side of Abaco. Have you seen the seaweed pictured below the map? That’s Sargassum.

1891 Sargasso See - Krummel

Sargasso See Map – Krummel -1891

 A close-up of Sargassum – maybe it washes up on a beach near you…Sargassum_on_the_beach,_Cuba Bogdan Giușcă
EIGHT FACTS ABOUT THE SARGASSO SEA TO IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS
  • Jean Rhys’s famous 1966 novel ‘The Wide Sargasso Sea’ is actually set in Jamaica (nb the Sea is mentioned!)
  • The Sargasso is the only ‘Sea’ to have no land boundary, being entirely in the Atlantic Ocean
  • It is vital to mass migrations of eels, where they lay their eggs
  • Young loggerhead turtles are believed to head for the Sea for seaweed protection while they grow
  • Much of the debris trapped in the NA Garbage Patch is in the Sargasso, and is non-biodegradable plastic
  • The Sea is protected by Commission established in 2014 involving at present 5 countries, including (unbelievably) Monaco, the second smallest country in the world at 0.75 sq miles. Green Turtle Cay is about twice the area!
  • Cultural references include the track “Wide Sargasso Sea” on Stevie Nick’s “In Your Dreams” (2011)
  • There are loads of other literary & musical references but I lost the will to pursue them when I saw the inclusion of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

If you want to find out more about Jean Rhys’s novel, read it or click HERE

JeanRhys_WideSargassoSea

 MUSICAL DIGRESSION

While writing this post I have had a song thrumming annoyingly inside my head. It’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’, with its coyly rhyming ‘look at it from my angle’. Now it’ll be inside your head too! I couldn’t remember who it sang it. Rupert Holmes? No, that was the egregious “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” (1979). Ah yes. Barry Manilow. Bazza Mazza. The Bazzman. As you’ve finished with the maps etc, here’s a musical memory with a counterbalance of the Stevie Nicks song mentioned earlier…

Those cover the Triangle and the Sargasso; what of the Garbage? Try some Fresh Garbage from Spirit…

OPTIONAL MUSICAL NOTES Randy California’s fingerpicked intro to ‘TAURUS‘ is remarkably similar to the later, far more famous guitar work of Jimmy Page’s intro to ‘STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN‘. And Spirit happened to tour with the early Led Zep. Legal action was commenced last year for copyright infringement, as yet unresolved… You be the Judge!

Credits: As credited above; open source; NOAA; mail.colonial; telegraph.co.uk; Sandy Walker; Bogdan Giușcă, Youtube self-credited; Wiki; Random Researches and Magpie Map & Fact pickings

BAHAMAS MANATEES: GINA’S GOOD NEWS FOR 2015


Tm_Gina&JJWest Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ

Manatee Gina with her weaned calf JJ

BAHAMAS MANATEES: GINA’S GOOD NEWS FOR 2015

Last year held hopes of a joyous reunion – and indeed union – in Abaco waters between young manatees Randy and Georgie. He had taken the trip from the Berry Is., around the top of Abaco and down the east coast as far at Little Harbour. She lives in Cherokee. Tantalisingly close. But then Randy retraced his steps as far as Gorda Cay and hopes for the production of Abaco’s first manatee calf (at least, in living / recorded memory) turned to seagrass mulch. The poignant story and some great manatee close-up photos (including a ‘selfie’ of sorts on a Go-Pro) can be found HERE

West Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ - weaning

But manatees do breed elsewhere in the Bahamas, in particular the Berry Is. They also seem to favour the north end of Eleuthera, and have been seen on Andros and NP. True, the absence of significant freshwater sources in the Bahamas – an essential part of their diet –  doesn’t make for an ideal habitat, but manatees do pair off and Bahamas calves are born. In summer 2012, there were four resident West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus) living in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Is. The adult female, Gina, had been there for 3 years – she originated from Florida. She had reportedly had 3 or 4 calves and was caring for her latest, a female calf called JJ, born in the late winter of 2011.

Adult female manatees are sexually mature at 6-10 years of age and have a gestation period of up to 13 months. The first two years of a calf’s life is spent with its mother. During this time they are taught where to find food, fresh water, warmth and shelter. Generally, after two years the calf is weaned and separates from its mother (see header image of Gina and JJ during that process)

 Nursing a growing JJ West Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ - nursing

Now there is more good news for Gina, who has been under regular observation by the BMMRO. At the turn of the year, Gina was re-tagged in Harbour Island, Eleuthera. As reported,  “she looks well, was very calm and is very pregnant… If the tag comes off and is found, please call the number on the tag to let us know – we are now monitoring her movements via the internet”.

Gina’s shows her best sideGina the Manatee 1

Coming atcher…Gina the Manatee 3

Tell-tale signs (to experts, anyway) of advanced pregnancyGina the Manatee 2

I will post any further news about Gina as it arises. Meanwhile, for more information about West Indian manatees, you can visit the MANATEE PAGE. There are several links there to specific manatee stories, especially about Rita and her adventurous daughter GEORGIE, Abaco’s current favourite (indeed, only) resident manatee… Both Links need an update, I notice –  they don’t cover Georgie’s subsequent return to Abaco and her contented settling down again in Cherokee where she seems happy as a… sirenian.

Dana & Trish greeting Georgie Manatee

Credits: All photos and primary fount of Bahamas manatee knowledge: BMMRO; Magpie Pickings

mantsw~1

PEACOCK FLOUNDER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (21)


  Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

PEACOCK FLOUNDER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (21)

PEACOCK FLOUNDER or PLATE FISH Bothus lunatus

I have briefly featured this fish before in the context of its extraordinary camouflage abilities; and also its interesting ocular arrangements. Time to give it another swim around, I think, with some additional photos that I have collected.

Peacock Flounder

Bothus lunatus is the Atlantic / Caribbean version of a species also found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Adults may grow up to 18 inches long. The species is a ‘lefteye’ flounder, with both eyes on its left (top) side & its right side underneath.  However a baby flounder looks & swims like normal fish, with bilateral eyes. As it grows, the right eye gradually ‘moves’ round to the topside, and it becomes a flatfish.

Peacock Flounder

A flounder’s eyes can move independently of each other. One may look forwards, the other backwardsPeacock Flounder Eye ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

‘NOW YOU SEE IT…’ CAMO-FISH

The Peacock Flounder has extraordinary  colour-changing powers, and can rapidly vary its background colour to make it closely resemble that of its surroundings. This enables it camouflage itself as it lies on the seabed. It can change coloration completely in between two to eight seconds.  

Four frames of the same fish taken a few minutes apart showing the ability of flounders to change colors to match the surroundings (Wiki)Peacock Flounder Brocken Inaglory

Check out these imitative patterns in Bahamas waters…Peacock Flounder (f) ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Flower_flounder_in_Kona_wiki

There are two advantages to the ability to camouflage (‘cryptic coloration). One is obviously to avoid detection by predators. The other is to enable the flounder to ambush its meals. They feed primarily on small fishes, crabs and shrimps, lying concealed on the seabed and grabbing any unwary prey that ventures too close. They will even partially bury themselves in the sand, leaving just their eye-stalks keeping watch…Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

HOW CAN THEY POSSIBLY CHANGE COLOUR SO QUICKLY?

Scientists are still puzzling this out. In a conch shell, it seems the flounder can coordinate its amazing all-round vision with its hormones, instantly releasing certain pigments to its skin cells and suppressing other pigments to make the colour match. Not convinced? Then watch this short video and prepare to be impressed. 

Fred Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, who kindly keeps a benign eye on my reef fish posts (he’s the expert), adds a third excellent reason for coloration changes: sex… “the male peacock flounder can, and does greatly intensify his colors, presumably to declare territory and attract females to his person. When doing this the males will also signal with the left pectoral fin, sticking it straight up and waving it around.” Maybe that is what is going on in the photo below – intensified, non-camouflage colours, and a raised fin…Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger@ G B Scuba

Peacock Flounder on a plate – Kim Rody Art983829_10154948988290716_6633206689277673329_n

Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba for almost all photos; wiki for 2 illustrative images

MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS


Sperm Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS

After a quiet spell on the cetacean and sirenian front, there is exciting news to report. First, the BMMRO encountered two sperm whales just off Sandy Point.  I don’t know how close to the shore they actually were, but it was very friendly of them to come so near to the BMMRO HQ.Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO3

When whales are sighted from the research vessel, one of the tasks is to collect feces. This job is often undertaken by interns, and is a good way to learn that serious research may well involve unattractive work… They practise with… er… coffee grounds and a net. For more on this important yet unappealing aspect of whale research, CLICK NICE TO SEE FAMILIAR FECES. Another essential part of any sighting is to take fluke photos to enable ID.  Every whale has different and distinctive patterning to the fluke, including general wear and tear. As a photo archive is built up, the researchers are able to recognise a particular whale and cross-reference it with previous sightings.

Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO2Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO1

The third task of a sighting is to record clicks made by an individual whale. This enables an estimate of the whale’s size to be made, and again a sound archive is gradually built up from which comparisons can be made.

Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO4

A NEW MANATEE VISITS MARSH HABOUR

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has just reported the sighting of a new manatee at the head of Marsh Harbour harbour. I’m not aware of any other sightings in the last couple of days, but as they say,  “Please keep your eyes out and drive carefully! Contact Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization with any further sighting reports by calling 357-6666. You can also share photos with them on Facebook. Also, please do not feed the manatee. They are able to find their own food and anything else may make them unhealthy”.

This is Abaco’s third recent manatee. First there was GEORGIE, who as far as I know is still comfortably settled in the Cherokee area. Then RANDY arrived earlier this and got to within about a few miles of Georgie… High hopes of a meeting – and ‘friendship, maybe more’ – were dashed when Randy turned round and headed back to Castaway Cay. Let’s hope this newcomer stays around. I wonder what he – or she – will be named? My suggestion is Abby or Abi, which I think is unisex…

10846213_10152589661493178_5080839733543438859_n10849995_10152589661598178_1824081022417510310_n

Just as with the whale flukes, the tail of a manatee is an important means of identification. The new manatee’s tail has its own distinctive edge pattern, which will enable its future recognition. Here is an image of Randy’s tail, with its unique notch. 

Randy the Abaco Manatee - tail notch

Credits: BMMRO & FOTE with thanks as ever for use permissions

mantsw~1

NASSAU GROUPER: VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED… & NOW PROTECTED


Nassau Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

NASSAU GROUPER: VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED… & NOW PROTECTED

The Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus is one of a number of Caribbean grouper species found generally in the Northern Bahamas and specifically in Abaco waters. Others include the Black, Tiger, and Yellowfin groupers, the Red Hind,and the Graysby. The Nassau grouper is special, however, not least because (unlike the others) it is on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species and is also a US National Marine Fisheries Service Species of Concern. It is considered the most important of the groupers for commercial fishing in the Caribbean, and the IUCN listing data suggests that a population decline of 60% occurred over the last three generations (27-30 years), a startling rate. The current population size is estimated at >10,000 mature individuals.

Nassau Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

The Nassau Grouper is a creature of the coral reefs in the Caribbean and adjacent seas, though it can also be found in deep water. It feeds in the daytime on small fish and small crustaceans such as shrimps, crabs and lobsters. It lurks in caves and recesses in the reef, sucking in the prey that passes unsuspecting by. The coloration of an individual fish may vary considerably with conditions, and it can adapt its colour to its surroundings as camouflage.  

Tiger grouper meets Nassau grouperNassau & Tiger Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba  copy

Spawning takes place in December and January as the seawater cools, always at full moon, and always in the same place. In the moonlight, huge numbers of the grouper gather together to mate in a mass spawning aggregation. This may continue for several days. However, the species is slow breeder, which is why overfishing is particularly damaging to the population as the depleted stock cannot readily be replaced.

3846_aquaimages Wiki

CONSERVATION ISSUES

There are other besides factors commercial overfishing that make the Nassau grouper so vulnerable, including fishing during the breeding season; taking undersized fish; pollution and reef decline; habitat loss; and invasive species. The spawning areas are especially vulnerable to exploitation. In the Bahamas, as elsewhere,  the government has now instituted a closed fishing season for the Nassau grouper. Here is the BREEF  flyer, just circulated – and in fact the reason for this post, which reminded me that I had planned to write about this fish! 10382222_10152869346685953_7443797899832698038_o

THREATS

The Bahamas National Trust sums up the multiple threats in this uncompromising way:

Nassau grouper is eaten by barracudas, lizard fish, dolphins, sharks and other large predators of the reef community. But the predators that have the biggest impact on the grouper population are humansPeople are fishing groupers before they can grow to maturity and reproduce. Sex change may also cause a problem. In undisturbed areas there are usually equal numbers of male and females. In heavily fished areas there are often three or more times more females than males. This means many eggs will not be fertilized during spawning. Other threats include, habitat destruction, coral breakage from divers, siltation from construction, runoff from logging and agriculture, dredging, sewage, oil spills and other contaminants that harm coral reefs where Nassau Groupers live.

grouperEpinephelus_striatus_2

There’s an extent to which a country can be judged on its attitude to wildlife from the stamps it chooses to issue. It’s something to do with appreciation and promotion of the country’s natural resources. For example, North Korea rates nil in this respect, with stamps involving scary weaponry, flags, marching and eerily glowing leaders – not a single sparrow to be seen.  By fortunate contrast the Bahamas and its Postal Service score very highly in celebrating the diversity of the wildlife of the islands. The Nassau Grouper was first featured on Bahamas stamps as long ago as 1971, some 25 years before the IUCN Red Listing, and probably before the sharp decline in population numbers had even begun.

bahamas-1971-nassau-grouper-sg-363-fine-used-19448-p

In 2012 the Bahamas Postal Service released ‘a new definitive 16 stamp series’ depicting the marine life of The Bahamas. The Nassau has been promoted from 5c in 1971 to 70c in 2012. That’s inflation for you.

bahamas-marine-life-stamps2

Finally in 2013 BREEF’s 20 years of marine conservation was commemorated with a distinguished and colourful set of 8 stamps, noting in their release: ‘Two of the new stamps feature the Nassau Grouper, a now endangered species that has experienced severe population decline throughout the region… BREEF is well known as an advocate for an annual closed season for the iconic Nassau Grouper during its winter breeding period. The push for the closed season was based on scientific evidence of population collapses throughout the region due to overfishing. BREEF is calling on the government to implement a fixed closed season for the Nassau Grouper in order to protect the species and the fishing industry. The closed season traditionally runs during the spawning season from December 1st until February 28th, to allow the fish to reproduce.  BREEF is calling urgently for the announcement of this year’s Nassau Grouper closed season….’ And so it came to pass… Not only is the Nassau grouper now worth 2 x 65c; it is strictly protected for 3 months during its breeding season. Maybe philately even had a hand in getting somewhere…

BREEF_Comemorative_stamps_PastedGraphic-3

Nassau Grouper (Rick Smit wiki)

Credits: Melinda Riger, Rick Smit, Open Source, BNT, BREEF, Wikimedia, Bahamas Postal Service

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW


Cyphoma_gibbosum Clark Anderson - Aquaimages

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

I wrote about FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS Cyphoma gibbous more than two years ago. They have not changed noticeably since then but this site has – in scope, available material and audience. So I am revisiting these small marine gastropod molluscs, which are related to cowries. The live animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour only exists in the ‘live’ parts – the ‘mantle’. The shell itself is usually pale and characterised by  a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and the wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are gratifyingly easy to identify.

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL ON A PURPLE ROPE SPONGEFlamingo Tongue on purple rope sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

FEEDING ON A CORAL STEM

This snail is snacking on a coral stem, leaving a feeding track behind it. The structural shell ridge is clearly visible beneath the distinctively marked live tissue of these creatures.

Flamingo Tongue LASZLO ILYES Cyphoma_gibbosum_(living)_2

The flamingo tongue feeds by browsing on soft corals. Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore the snail’s feeding preference is generally not harmful to the coral.

Flamingo_Tongue_Snail_on_Soft_Coral_LASZLO ILYES

The principal purpose of the mantle of  tissue over the shell is as the creature’s breathing apparatus.  The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As I have seen it described (unkindly?) “it’s basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”. 

Flamingo Tongue, Abaco (Char Albury)

This snail species, once common, is becoming rarer. The natural predators include Hogfish, Pufferfish and Spiny Lobsters, though the spotted mantle provides some defence by being rather unpalatable. Gorgonian corals contain natural toxins and instead of secreting these, the snail stores them. This supplements the defence provided by its APOSEMATIC COLORATION, the vivid colour and /or pattern warning sign to predators found in many species.

It comes as little surprise to learn that man is now considered to be the greatest menace to these little  creatures, and the reason for their significant decline in numbers. The threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly / ignorantly think that the colour of the mantle is the shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch from the reef, and in due course are left with… “boring-looking shells” (see photos below). Don’t be a collector; be a protector…
Flamingo Tongue, Abaco (Char Albury)

These photos are of flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I believed everyone thought they were rather lovely… I did, anyway. You decide!

Flamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen Abaco

Finally, a couple of videos. The first is rather charmingly titled ‘FLAMINGO TONGUES DOING…. SOMETHING’. Any (printable but amusing) suggestions via the Comment box are welcome. The second punchily summarises this post in 30 seconds. Maybe that’s all that was needed!

Image Credits: Clark Anderson, Melinda Riger, Laszlo Ilyes, Charmaine Albury, RH

Doh! Reading through this after posting I can’t remove from my mind the likeness of Homer Simpson on the snail in Melissa’s photo (2). I had to  check it out and… it’s uncanny!

Homer Simpson Flamingo Tongue copy images