BAHAMAS REEF FISH (50): TOBACCO BASSLET
Welcome to #50 in the Bahamas Reef Fish series. I chose this fish to honour the landmark before thinking about its features. Grumpy. Also, associated with a narcotic and dangerous drug. And a fish one probably wouldn’t bother to smoke (even if one could get it to light underwater). In the Bahamas you’ll find these little fish around the coral reefs where they play their part as reef denizens, which includes being prey to larger species. If one looks them up online, however, the overwhelming impression from the websites and images available is that they exist largely for the benefit of the aquarium industry.
Tobacco basslets (Serranus tabacarius) – more commonly just called tobacco fish or tobaccofish – are related to the HARLEQUIN BASS(LET), a species that was most unfairly included as #9 in my parallel WTF? series among all the seriously weird sea creatures that feature in that category. A wrong I must right one day.
Tobacco fish are considered to be hardy, unaggressive (except towards the tiny fishes and crustaceans they feed on) but apparently they need quite a large tank to hold them. The ocean might be suitably large for the purpose. Especially as it seems that in an aquarium there needs to be a cover on top: “these fish are expert jumpers…“, as one source puts it…
BESIDES THE BAHAMAS & AQUARIUMS WHERE ELSE DO THEY LIVE?
APART FROM THE HIGH JUMP THING, ANY OTHER TRICKS?
Yes indeed. The Tobacco Basslet is hermaphroditic, like all other members of its genus.
DON’T LEAVE IT AT THAT… HOW DO THEY, YOU KNOW?
I didn’t want you to ask. All their FB pages say “It’s complicated“, but here’s a rough idea…
- All individuals start life as simultaneous hermaphrodites (with sex organs of both sexes)
- The largest fish lose their female functions and become active sperm-producing males
- Each male leads a group of hermaphrodites and protects them from other males
- This gives them exclusive rights to the female parts of members of their ‘harem’
- Sometimes hermies may use their male bits to join in & release sperm – ‘streaking’
- There are rarer mating strategies… Oh heck, please look at the abstract of a scientific paper for details. I had to! And all because you, gentle reader, asked that question.
With some relief, here is very short video. It probably doesn’t accurately show how Tobacco fish might behave on a Bahamian reef. In captivity, from the look of it, they get pushed around by bigger fish. But maybe, if their co-residents are carefully selected, the bonus is that they don’t risk getting eaten.
OPTIONAL MUSICAL INTERLUDE
There are no songs ever that mention tobacco fish or tobacco basslets (though lots involve bass). And more oddly, apart from a couple of old blues songs the only truly mainstream song about tobacco by name (as opposed to content) is Tobacco Road, a song as frequently and thoroughly covered as an aquarium tank containing jumpy tobacco fish.
Rare photos from the actual sea captured by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Science Direct plus magpie pickings; Captive Aquatic Ecosytems (video)
I didn’t enjoy this article about me very much. I am NOT grumpy.