The Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliarisis is without doubt one of the most beautiful of all reef fishes in the Bahamas – and the competition is very strong. I have posted about them before, but to my surprise not for nearly 5 years. Too long: here are some much more recent photographs of adults and cute juveniles.
The bright colours, the pouty expressions, the appealing poses – these fish are true Beauty Queens. And helpfully, they are unlikely to be mistaken for any other fish species.
CARIBBEAN REEF SQUID REVISITED: SUPERPOWERS & SQUID SEX
The Caribbean reef squid Sepioteuthis sepioidea is a small squid species of (mainly) the Caribbean Sea and the Floridian coast, and the most common in its range. These squid tend to form small shoals in and around reefs. Right now, in June, is a good time to find these creatures swimming in groups – all these photos were taken during the last fortnight. I wrote about squid a while back (3 years, maybe)? This post includes some parts of the earlier one, with all-new images. Squidmages, even.
Squid are voracious eaters, dragging their prey to their mouths with some or all of their 10 limbs and using their beak to cut it up. The target species are small fish, molluscs and crustaceans. The squid have a ‘raspy tongue’ known as a radula which further breaks up the food for easy consumption.
REEF SQUID SUPERPOWERS (SUPERCOOL)
Squid are capable of brief flight out of the water (a fairly recent discovery)
They can also hide from / confuse predators by ejecting a cloud of black ink
Squid can change colour, texture and shape, and can even match their surroundings
This enviable power is used defensively as camouflage or to appear larger if threatened
It is also used in courtship rituals (something that humans might find most disconcerting)
Colour patterns are also used for routine squid-to-squid communication AND GET THIS:
A squid can send a message to another on one side, and a different one to a squid on the other side
SQUID SEX (1) “ROMANCING THE SQUID”
A male will gently stroke a female with his tentacles
The female will (most likely) flash an ‘alarm’ pattern. She’s hard to get.
The male soothes her (don’t try this at home, guys) by blowing and jetting water at her
If this doesn’t go well, he’ll move off, then repeat the routine until she sees his good points
However this on / off courtship can last for hours until at last he succeeds and then…
… he attaches a sticky packet of sperm onto the female’s body (romance is not dead on the reef)
Meanwhile he stays close, emitting a pulsing pattern, as well he might after all that palaver
She then finds a safe place to lay her eggs. Job done.
SQUID SEX (2) IT ALL ENDS BADLY. VERY BADLY.
As soon the female squid has laid her eggs, she dies at once
The male squid lives a bit longer and… may have other packets to stick on other lady squid
But then in the end he dies too
It’s all horribly reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. The lovers die. But no the balcony scene
THE CORRECT PLURAL OF SQUID
I had an unwise look online, always a hotbed of conflicting opinions. Inserting an algorithm into the interstices of the internet proves conclusively that the plural of squid is… squid. One squid, ten squid, a group of squid, a plate of squid. Unless, that is, you are talking about more than one of the many squid species, when you could also have ‘I collect both reef and giant squids’. “Squidses” sounds fun but is sadly not permitted.
Fish, like humans, have a wide variety of temperaments, or so it seems. Resorting to anthropomorphic analysis of animal behaviour is a favourite pastime for humans. Who really knows if a creature is actually feeling shy or confident or playful or aggressive or indeed inquisitive. Often it just seems that way and we are happy to categorise dolphins as playful, sharks as vicious, angelfish as serene, small darting fish as timid and so on.
Occasionally a creature displays a ‘human’ characteristic that seems undeniable. One such is Curious George. He has become used to the divers around the reef where he lives, and greets them. He enjoys the photography sessions and the equipment, even though they may be for recording other fish. He demonstrates inquisitiveness for the strange-looking black-suited creatures that visit his patch. Like many groupers, he likes to be gently patted and stroked.
All this curiosity and friendliness evidences a benign interspecies relationship of symbiotic mutualism, through which both species (man and fish) benefit from the interaction. The mutually beneficial feeling might in broad terms be described as ‘pleasure’.
Or maybe I am just indulging in a bit of over-anthropomorphisation (if there is such a word)…
All photos by one half of the symbiotic mutualism here, Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba)
The threespot damselfish Stegastes planifrons is one of several damselfish types found in the Bahamas and more generally in the western Atlantic. As with so many reef species, there is a marked difference in coloration between juveniles (bright yellow) and darker-hued adults (above).
These are bony little creatures, equipped with both spines and ‘soft rays’ on some of their fins. This perhaps make them unappealing to potential predators; and maybe the very brightness and ‘hi-viz’ of the juveniles is aposematic, a coloration thats acts as a warning or repellent to potential predators.
On the reef it seems threespots favour staghorn coral as a daytime base. Their diet is mainly seaweed, with small molluscs, gastropods and worms for variety. At night they retire to crevices and caves.
Adults are, for such small fish, vigorously protective of their territories. They will chase and nip intruders into their domains, even far larger creatures (up to and including humans).
A breeding pair will both be involved in egg care. Once the female has laid her eggs, they adhere to the lower reef and seabed. The male guards them and rather sweetly fans them with his fins to keep them oxygenated. And then another generation hatches and the threespot life cycle repeats.
Credits: All fantastic photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba
The porcupinefish Diodon hystrix falls into the general category ‘pufferfish’, though the particular species named PUFFERFISH are distinct in their own right. There are other similar species – e.g. balloonfish, blowfish and burrfish – with which there is scope for confusion. The relationship is something like this: all porcupinefish are pufferfish (in a broad sense); but not all pufferfish (in its species sense) are porcupinefish.
Porcupinefish are slow-moving reef dwellers and like their puffer cousins, they can inflate themselves by ingesting water, turning them into spiny balloons. This defence mechanism is a response to threat and works in two way: only predators with large mouths would consider them a meal; and even then they have to deal with the spines that become prominent when the fish is bloated.
I’VE HEARD PUFFERFISH ARE POISONOUS? WHAT ABOUT THIS GUY?
Good question. Checking it out, I’ve found some contrary statements about this. The truth seems to be that unlike pufferfish, they do not produce toxic secretions from their skins, so are not poisonous to touch (if you must**).
However porcupinefish do contain powerful (neuro)toxins in their internal organs and are best not eaten – though in some parts of the world they are considered a minor delicacy. They may also suffer the ignominy of being dried in their inflated state and sold to tourists as novelties – with lightbulbs inside for added amusement value.
ARE PORCUPINEFISH FAMOUS IN ANY RESPECT?
Indeed they are. They had the honour of being recorded by Charles Darwin. He gives a surprisingly long account of this creature, encountered during his renowned voyage on the Beagle. It clearly fascinated him. I’ve ‘ripped’ the relevant passage (open source – it’s ok) and turned it into an eezi-reed pdf if you want to check out Darwin’s careful observations in more detail:
Yes! In ‘Finding Nemo’, Bloat the Porcupinefish was part of the ‘Tank Gang’ in a dentist’s office. He had an encore in the closing credits of ‘Finding Dory’. Enough of fame already. Here’s a 50 second video demonstrating the puffer / porcupine distinction.
Behold the porkfish Anisotremus virginicus, the slightly unattractively named representative of the (arguably) even less attractively named grunt species. These small, bright-coloured reef dwellers are rarely more than 12 inches long. They are mainly nocturnal fish, feeding on small crustaceans, mollusks and so on. Juveniles have been observed acting as cleaners to larger species, feeding on parasites – an example of mutualism between species, in which both sides benefit from the arrangement.
WHY IS A ‘PORKFISH’ A ‘GRUNT’
The terminology seems to be somewhat confused by local usages, but in general terms all porkfish are grunts; but not vice versa. Yet I notice that the term ‘porkfish’ is used to describe other types of grunt. A good rule of thumb is the the Atlantic Porkfish is the only grunt with two black vertical bars and yellow stripes… Note that grunts differ from their cousins the snappers by having a different dental arrangement – no canine teeth.
AND WHY ‘GRUNT’ ANYWAY? DO THEY SOUND LIKE PIGS?
Well, perhaps a bit. All grunts, including porkfish, are capable of producing grunt-like sounds from some kind of grinding of their back teeth that is too technical to go into here**. The sound is associated with ‘situations of duress and danger’ – such as being caught and unhooked…
DO YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE A RECORDING?
As it so happens I do. This is taken from a rather longer Youtube video in which a grunt was caught, unhooked and returned.You’ll hear a couple of grunts as the fish was unhooked, and some (perhaps understandable) hilarity on the boat. I guess you had to be there.
Porkfish are gregarious, and also mix with other species
ARE PORKFISH EDIBLE?
Like most if not all grunts, they are, with the proviso that there is some association with ciguatera. I’ve never knowingly eaten one myself, but I gather that “grits and grunts” is a popular culinary combo in some places. For those that might want to know more, a quick look at a couple of threads reveals the following:
They taste great, a bit like ham
Their white meat cooks very well
They taste better than black margates (another grunt species)
Eat them in enchilado or breaded fillets
‘Big-ass head’ on them so not much if you filet
If you scale and cook whole you get a better yield on them
When fishing for supper, ‘shoot ’em up and hold off for the bigger ones’
Credits: all great photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, except the last by Brian Gratwicke (wiki); soundbite from Youtube video 2010 by peachyree; research from seaworld.org; britannica.com and the usual suspects…
** Subtle code for “I haven’t really understood it…”
The cubera snapper (Lutjanus cyanopterus) is the largest snapper species. Adults may grow to 5′ long but they average around 3′ long and weigh 40 lbs or so (the record apparently stands at a massive 126 lbs). These are game fish, and they are a commercially important species. They are also IUCN listed as vulnerable, perhaps for that very reason.
10 CUBERA SNAPPER SNAPPY FACTS
The largest of a large number of snapper species in the western Atlantic
Feed on fish, shrimps & crabs, with large strong teeth (see pics) and jaws
Among their (few) predators are sharks, barracuda, and moray eels
Edible, but beware of the danger ofCIGUATERApoisoning
In summer months, spawning is governed by lunar cycles
Cuberas form huge spawning masses (to 10k) in offshore shallows
Sadly the resulting eggs and larvae are rich pickings for predators…
Youngsters live in sea grass or mangroves for protection
Cuberas are game fish with commercial importance
IUCN listed as vulnerable – largely courtesy of mankind (see »)
Overfishing is one of the greatest threats to the species. Those young fish that are not predated naturally and grow to adulthood are targets for fishermen. There’s no prissy ‘catch & release’, as with bonefish. At spawning time, as the fish instinctively (and predictably) mass as the moon dictates, so do the human predators. The spawning sites are where the best protection can be given, to ensure the annual reproductive cycle is uninterrupted. If not, ‘vulnerable’ will soon give way to ‘endangered’…
I’d been going to pull apart a long recipe for the “wonderfully sweet white meat ” of this fish for the tastiest morsels of info, then (not being a cook) I quickly tired of the idea. Sorry to disappoint.
Credits: Melinda Riger for the wonderful photos; range map from wiki; magpie research pickings, including (but not limited to ) Nat Geo