WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) 10: FLYING GURNARD


Flying Gurnard (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) 10: FLYING GURNARD

Imagine that you are swimming along resplendent in your snorkelling gear (me) – or in scuba gear for the advanced swimmer (you). There, below you, camouflaged against the sea bottom is a fish. A strange-shaped brown sort of creature with odd side fins. As it progresses over the gravelly sand, your immediate reaction is ‘what the…?’ Its fins seem to be turning into… wings. Like this:

Flying Gurnard (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Flying Gurnard (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Flying Gurnard (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Yes, it’s a flying gurnard. Unlike flying fish, it can’t actually fly through the air. But once its wings are fully spread, it certainly looks as though it could.

Flying Gurnard (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Flying Gurnard (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

WHAT’S THE POINT OF THE WINGS IF THE THING CAN’T FLY?

This gurnard species usually gets around using its ventral fins as ‘legs’, with the pectoral fins (‘wings’) close to the body. There seem to be several possible reasons for possessing the ‘sudden-deployment-of-flashy-wings’ superpower. 

  • It surprises and deters predators by movement, turning prospective prey into an apparently different creature
  • Bright or lurid colouring may be a deterrent warning of a foul-tasting or poisonous species  (APOSEMATISM)
  • A creature may actually be harmless and even tasty (as here) but may appear to be unpalateable or poisonous (BATESIAN MIMICRY)
  • In any event, the wings enable the fish to take off from the sea bottom and travel faster by ‘flying’ thought the water to escape a predator

Dactylopterus_volitans Flying Gurnard (cralize wiki)

I had a quick look to see how  scientists in history had depicted this extraordinary fish. The earliest illustration I could find was taken from “Allgemeine Naturgeschichte der Fische (General natural history of fishes),” a 12-volume encyclopedia by author/illustrator Marcus Elieser Bloch (1723-1799), which described all fish species then known to science (and 267 previously unknown) (© AMNH\D. Finnin) sourced from ‘Hyperallergic’
Flying Gurnard

Here’s a short video of a flying gurnard on the move, from ‘Sia Big Fish’

Credits: All main images Adam Rees / Scuba Works with many thanks, except final one ‘cralize wiki’; Hyperallergic for the historic image; Sia Big Fish for the video

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (9): THE HARLEQUIN BASS


Harlequin Bass ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (9): THE HARLEQUIN BASS

I’m conscious of being rather unfair on this pretty dwarf bass species by including it in the WTF? series. The usual denizen of the series is a fish so strange that one’s immediate instinct is to yell into one’s facemask, “WTF?”. BATFISH or FROGFISH or GUITARFISH and their bizarre ilk. So with apologies to this species for its somewhat harsh classification, here are some quite flattering photos of it to make up for any hurt feelings.

Harlequin Bass Fish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyHarlequin Bass (jpc what'sthatfish)

The Harlequin Bass Serranus tigrinus has unusually striking body markings and a rather endearing spotty tailfin. They are hardy creatures and I note that they are recommended aquarium fish “and make a great candidate for beginners”, though there are warnings that they are “semi-aggressive”. NB they are only a few inches long, so no need to panic.

Harlequin_Bass_Serranus_tigrinus wikiHarlequin_Bass_(Serranus_tigrinus) wiki

If you are still not confident that you can ID one in the wild, here is a short video… Actually I’m really including it to show how these fish swim around. And next time, I promise a truly eye-watering WTF? fish from Bahamian waters, though its camouflage is so good that you may never notice it…

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2); jpc/ what’s that fish; wiki

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (7): THE SOAPFISH


Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (7): THE SOAPFISH 

The WTF? series features some of the stranger fish that inhabit the waters of the Bahamas. Ones that, were you to encounter one on the reef, might make you exclaim “WTF?”. The soapfish Rypticus belongs in the same family as grouper and sea bass. Within the soapfish genus there are quite a few varieties in different shapes, sizes and colours that include several mottled, freckled, spotted and generally blotchy fish.  This post features one (or two) of them! Sorry to be lame here and lacking in authority, but having looked carefully online at images of several types of soapfish, I reckon there are 3 candidates. Freckled, I think these are. Enlightenment would be welcome!

Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Rypticus tend to inhabit shallower tropical and sub-tropical waters. They are mainly nocturnal in their habits, feeding at night on small fish, crustaceans and molluscs. The WTF? factor arises from the creature’s oddly truncated shape. If you cover the back end of the fish in the image below with your hand, you might expect the fish to be about the same length again. But no, there’s just the tail to come. It looks a bit cut in half.

Soapfish © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba

DOES THE SOAPFISH HAVE ANY AWESOME POWERS?

I’m glad you asked because in fact it has two. First, these fish respond to threats by secreting large amounts of toxic mucus from their skins. This acts as a defensive barrier to repel predators. Secondly, female soapfish are able to change sex to male. This is not uncommon among fish, and in some (e.g. Clownfish) the change works the other way, male to female. I read a lot about chemicals and gonads in this connection, then decided to spare you the details. So basically, it’s toxic slimy coats and female gender realignment.

Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba

 

“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

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