JAW-DROPPING: A GROUP OF GROUPER(S)


Grouper at cleaning station - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

JAW-DROPPING: A GROUP OF GROUPER(S)

Today is going to be about Jaws – not those sinister-music-sharky types, but a look at the dentition, gill arrangements and oral hygiene of groupers(s). First, though, the vexed question of the correct plural for a group of these fish. I tackled the complex 3-option correct plural of OCTOPUS a while back. Now another problem piscine plural has cropped up.

Tiger Grouper - Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaThe short answer is that the plural is usually ‘groupers’, but also – perhaps less commonly – ‘grouper’ (there’s a similar situation with plural of ‘hare’). One online source suggests ‘grouperer’, but that just seems cumbersome. I think there may be a useful distinction to be made here. When talking about grouper of the same species, one could say “I saw 17 Nassau grouper today”. But where reference is made to mixed species, “I saw plenty of groupers today” implies that there was more than one species – black and tiger, maybe. 

Grouper at cleaning station - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Grouper - Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

In some of these photos you’ll notice tiny fish attending to the grouper. These are CLEANERS and they are an essential part of the bodily and oral hygiene routine for larger fish species. The big fish call in at so-called CLEANING STATIONS, where the tiddlers remove parasites and dead skin, and polish up the gills. They will even enter the fish’s mouth to pick bits from between its teeth – the deal being that they will not be eaten. This mutually beneficial arrangement is called ‘cleaning symbiosis’ and is carried out by (for example) gobies, wrasses and cleaner shrimps.

Peterson’s cleaner shrimps and cleaner wrasseGrouper with Peterson's cleaner shrimps and wrasse - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Some of these photos show groupers with open gills as well as open mouths, an invitation to the cleaners to do their work. I’d intended to write about how and why gills work but I’ve thought better of it. There’s a lot of detail about chemical exchange involved that, when I looked more closely, seemed rather dull… and therefore outside the remit of this blog, which includes trying to avoid ‘dull’. If you really want to know more, Wiki has a good article HERE. Good luck with that….

Grouper - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Credits: All photos Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

BLUEHEAD WRASSE: PRIVATE LIFE LAID BARE


bluehead_wrasse_thallasoma_bifasciatum_oregonstate-edu-pinterest

BLUEHEAD WRASSE: PRIVATE LIFE LAID BARE

The bluehead wrasse (or blue-headed wrasse) Thalassoma bifasciatum is a denizen of the coral reefs of the tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. This bright little 4-inch fish is… a wrasse with a blue head. No more and no less. Unless it’s a juvenile. Then it is mainly bright yellow. It’s similar to BLUE TANG (aka ‘the Disney Dory’), which starts life bright yellow and grows up to be blue.

blue-head-wrasse-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copy

The species may be found singly, in pairs or small groups, or in schools.  They have an important role to play in the life of the reef. They are CLEANER FISH, vital to the health and wellbeing of the larger species they attend to, and thus of the reef itself. This is ‘cleaning symbiosis’, a relationship of mutual benefit. The big fish get cleaned; the little fish have a useful function and – importantly for them – therefore don’t get eaten. 

thalassoma_bifasciatum_bluehead_wrasse_san_salvador_island_bahamas-james-st-john-wiki

Having said that, blueheads are of course fair game as a snack for species that aren’t in the market for their cleaning services. And, unfairly, some species that are content to let cleaner gobies runtle around their gills and mouths are not so considerate of the wrasse. Some types of grouper and moray eel, for example.

bluehead_wrasse

TELL US EXACTLY SEVEN BLUEHEAD WRASSE FACTS

  • Juveniles can alter the intensity of their colour, stripes & bars
  • The bluehead wrasse is a ‘protogynous sequential hermaphrodite’
  • All are born female**. Some change sex to male during maturation (see below)
  • Food includes zooplankton, small molluscs and small crustaceans…
  • …and parasites / other juicy bits (fungal growths, anyone?) from bigger fish
  • The main threat to the species is coral reef degradation or destruction
  • The bright colours invite aquarium use, but the trade is not a significant one

** Some sources suggest some are born male and remain male. I’m not sure which is right

A juvenile bluehead (with feather-duster worms) – mostly yellow, with a pale underside
Bluehead Wrasse juvenile (wiki)

THE REMARKABLE SEX LIFE OF THE BLUEHEAD WRASSE

This is an unavoidable topic, I’m afraid. The bluehead’s sex life is the most interesting thing about them, and this is no time to be prudish. It is the subject of extensive scientific research, not all of which I have read since I decided to write about the species last night. Like many human relationships, “it’s complicated”, but in a conch shell it boils down to this:

  • To recap, BWs are born female and as they mature, some become male.
  • Males reach an ‘initial phase’ when they can breed in groups with females
  • Some males grow even larger & reach full colouration. This is the ‘terminal phase’
  • These large males aggressively chase away smaller ones & seek females to pair with
  • Their state of readiness (as it were) is signalled by colour changes
  • This behaviour is similar to that seen in many city centres in a Saturday night
  • The smaller fish have one bonus – their sperm count is higher than a dominant male
  • Prozac tests have shown that the drug reduces a dominant male’s aggression

blue-headed_wrasse_det (wiki)

As the excellent organisation OCEANA puts it: Bluehead Wrasses may reproduce in four different ways throughout their lifetime:  1) as a female in a group spawning event; 2) as a female in a pair spawning event within the territory of a large male; 3) as a small male in a group spawning event; and 4) as a dominant, terminal male in a pair spawning event within its own territory.

A cropped still from a video I took at Fowl Cay marine reserve. I’ve looked at dozens of images online and not found one that was all blue with a yellow end to its tail fin. Maybe it’s not a BW at all. Or it’s a different type of fish completely. Or perhaps it is just an all-blue alpha male.bluehead-wrasse-fowl-cay-mr-abaco

Credits & Sources: Melinda Riger; Adam Rees; James St John; Oregon State edu / Pinterest; Wiki images; self; Oceana; IUCN; magpie pickings

A bluehead wrasse passes the time of day with a gruntbluehead-wrasse-grunt-adam-rees

“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

MAKE FRIENDS WITH ANEMONE: BAHAMAS REEF LIFE


Anemone (Giant) ©Melinda Riger @GBS copy

MAKE FRIENDS WITH ANEMONE: BAHAMAS REEF LIFE

The giant anemone is found in the shallow reefs and lagoons of the Caribbean and western Atlantic. These are, of course, animals and not plants, with many tentacles that surround their mouth. They attach themselves to rock or in rock crevices, mooring themselves securely against the swell of the waves.  

Giant anemone with ‘Speckles’, a spotted moray eelGiant Anemone & Speckles ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

ARE THEY USEFUL?

One important feature of a healthy anemone population is the shelter they give to certain small fish and cleaner shrimp species. They act as bases for FISH CLEANING activities, a vital role in the undersea community.

Giant Anemone ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

HOW DO THEY HAVE… ERM… SEX?

The sex lives of anemones seems particularly complicated (as they would doubtless think about humans). Cutting to the chase, reproduction involves the synchronous spawning of eggs and sperm, with fertilisation occurring in the surrounding water. The fertilised eggs become larval and spread in the water column, which increases their chances of survival. They settle on the BENTHOS, where they develop a “pedal leg” (rather in the manner of a gastropod) which in due course they will use to move from A to… A plus a very short distance.

Giant Anemone ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 4

These anemones come in many colours. The tentacles often have tips of various hues, and are the only free-floating part of the animal. The body is safely attached to the rock. 

The giant anemone has primitive defensive mechanisms. It needs them, because it crawls so slowly that successful escape by moving is unlikely. Instead they reduce their size by drawing their tentacles into, or as close as possible to, their gastric cavity. They make room for this by forcing most of the water out. This reduces their overall size and of course removes – or at least diminishes – the ”50 colourful tentacles waving around” predator-magnet problem. But also…
Giant Anemone ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 7
…they have a trump card. The tips of the giant anemones’ tentacles are packed with cells that contain a toxin. When stimulated, the cells (‘nemocysts’) “explode out of the capsule, impaling the attacker”. The toxin is then discharged, causing extreme pain and paralysis. How cool is that? It’s the superpower we’d all like to have! Or is that just me?
This is also how an anemone feeds, by quickly paralyzing its prey with the ‘toxic tentacles of doom’. The prey is moved to the mouth and swallowed whole…
Giant Anemone ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 6
Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as always

‘TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS’: REEF FISH & CLEANING STATIONS


Goby (Cleaning) © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Cleaning Goby (Melinda Riger)

‘TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS’: REEF FISH & CLEANING STATIONS

A cleaning station is a place where fish and and other aquatic life congregate to be cleaned. This involves the removal of parasites both externally and internally, and is be performed by various creatures including, on the coral reefs of the Bahamas, cleaner shrimps and various species of cleaning fish such as wrasses and gobies. The process conveniently benefits both the cleaned and the cleaner.

Tiger Grouper being cleaned by Cleaner ShrimpsGrouper being cleaned ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Blue Parrotfish being cleaned (or tickled, from its expression) by a Cleaner Shrimp Blue Parrot Fish & Peterson Cleaner Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

  Black Grouper being cleaned by gobies – note the ones in its mouth Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Black Grouper at a Cleaning Station with gobies. Note the hook and line… Grouper, Black, at cleaning station (+ hook) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Tiger Grouper being cleaned by GobiesTiger Grouper being cleaned ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

Gobies checking a hand for parasites….Cleaning Gobies copy

When a fish approaches a cleaning station it will open its mouth wide or position its body in such a way as to signal that it needs cleaning. The cleaner fish will then remove and eat the parasites from the skin, even swimming into the mouth and gills of the fish being cleaned.

“Clean me!” An amazing view of a Tiger Grouper at a CleaningStation with its gills wide openGrouper, Tiger - gills open at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copy

Grouper at a cleaning station over a spongeSponge : Fish Cleaning Station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Remora clinging to a shark. For more on this unusual symbiotic relationship, click HERE383586_510314062323321_1002533913_n copy

 All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as ever