Avid outdoorsman and underwater photographer, Barry Brown has spent the last ten years documenting life above and below water in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. He is currently working with the Smithsonian Institution documenting new Caribbean deep-water species and building a one of a kind database. His underwater images can regularly be seen in Sport Diver, Scuba Diver and on the Ikelite website. His image of a "Collage of Corals" seen under blue-light at night recently placed in the TOP 10 images for the 2014 NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) photo contest.
Archive for the ‘Bony Fish’
Apr 1, 15 Comments Off
Hi friends, I’m having a very busy week and can’t seem to find time to sit at the computer. For those of you who have been to Curacao and stopped by our house you remember the giant driftwood horse-head that Aimee has been making for about a year now, well, it’s finally finished. Last night we loaded it into the car and brought it over here to the Substation and left it inside overnight. This morning she stopped by and we took a bunch of photos of her with her new creation, I promise I will post it soon, it’s really cool!
The turtles are doing GREAT in their new luxury home and I finally got the old one torn apart at our house and got the yard back to normal. We have a four day holiday starting this Friday so I will head out there and check on them and make sure all is good and take a few more photos.
I have a big red trumpetfish for you all today, this one here almost let me touch him, he could have been the most calm/unafraid fish I have ever seen, I just love these kind of encounters!
Going mountain biking tonight even though it’s close to 100 degrees and the wind is blowing like a hurricane, talk about training in crazy conditions!
Sorry so short, I have to run, I’m busy with a project for the Smithsonian Institution.
Mar 25, 15 Comments Off
Hi friends, I have a beautiful frogfish I found awhile back at close to 100 feet near the famous “Tugboat” dive site located at Caracasbaai. Like Sea horses and Batfish these animals are VERY hard to find because of their unique ability to blend into their environment! Most frogfish LOVE sponges, these are considered the Holy Grail of animals to find while diving so folks start looking at sponges more closely!
Frogfish are considered bottom dwellers. They have the unique ability to mimic surrounding sponges by varying its background hue to match that of the dominant sponge in the area. It also has multiple ocellii (eye-like markings) that look like the openings in a sponge. The frogfish uses its stalked pectoral fins and its pelvic fins to slowly “walk” across the bottom. Frogfishes have been observed inflating themselves by filling their stomachs with air or water. This is a solitary species found in small populations. It is the most common frogfish species in the West Indies and harmless to humans.
These fish are a short, fat, globular species, it generally does not exceed 8 in (20 cm), though 5 in (13 cm) is seldom exceeded. Its skin is thick and covered in highly modified scales called dermal spicules. These spicules are prickly in appearance and resemble the warts of a toad. The frogfish has small eyes, a very large mouth that is directed upwards, and pectoral fins situated on stalks. The gill openings are very small and located behind the pectoral fins. The basic color of the longlure frogfish is highly variable, ranging from pale yellow to bright red or dark green to reddish brown. Black spots are scattered across the body no matter what the base color. Multiocellatus means “many eye-like spots” in Latin. It also has a phase where the body is completely black, except for the ends of the paired fins which are white, and for a pale area that resembles a saddle on the back. The second and third dorsal spines are separate from the others and covered in thick skin.
A unique feature of the frogfish family is that the eggs are spawned encapsulated in a buoyant mass of mucus, referred to as an “egg raft”. This structure may serve as a transport of moving a large number of eggs over a large geographical distances. Spawning can be dangerous for the frogfish due to the cannibalistic nature of the species. The male and female march across the bottom before spawning, with the female leading and the male close behind. His snout usually is in immediate contact with her vent. The female is bloated with eggs during this time, often swelling to twice her normal size. The pair will then make a dash to the surface and the egg mass bursts from the female. The frogfish may spawn several times over a few weeks.
A voracious ambush predator, it feeds mainly on fishes, but also on crabs and mantis shrimp. The name “longlure” is refers to the elongated illicium which acts as a fishing lure. The illicium is the first spine of the dorsal fin, highly modified into a long rod with a lure (esca) at the end. In most species, the esca looks like potential prey, such as a worm, crustacean, or even a fish. The frogfish will lie in a sponge and wait for a fish to swim by. It will then wiggle the lure around to attract the prey. It is capable of swallowing a fish that is larger in size than itself. Like a recreational human angler, the frogfish will move to a different location if no fish are biting. The frogfish is reported to be the fastest animal alive. It can move and suck in prey at speeds as quickly as 0.006 seconds, so only high-speed film can catch the action.
Trying to recover this morning from a miserable 2o mile mountain bike ride last night! I started at around 4:00 in close to 100 degree temps, good thing I put a cold pack inside my camelback or I most likely would have passed out! My new weekly loop takes around 2 hours and it covers every trail on this side of the island, many are too difficult for most riders and if you fall you will for sure get hurt.
Doing a night dive tonight with Aimee, we will be testing out the new Ikelite UV setup so stay tuned for those photos tomorrow!
Have a wonderful day…
Mar 17, 15 Comments Off
Hello one and all, how is your week treating you?? I know I promised you tortoise photos today but we got out there too late in the day yesterday to make pictures, so like everything, it will have to wait a few more days. I made two large caves out of big rubber tubs “flipped upside down” that I am using as their night-time sleeping/safety area which are sealed at night (with plenty of air-holes). This way no rats or anything can bother them while they are sleeping and they will be safe during a hard rain.
Here’s a colorful photo of a big school of Blue Tangs cruising through the reef with a single goatfish (yellow fish) trying hard to blend in. I really had quite a laugh underwater watching this single goatfish, it’s like he always wanted to be a blue tang and figured they wouldn’t even notice if he hung out with them. We see these large groups called “aggregations” on the reef here every single day and I still never seem to get tired of it, they are just so beautiful. Adult blue tangs have three social modes: territorial, wandering, and schooling. Territorial adults defend their home rage from other members of the species. Schooling adults are not aggressive. Wanderer adults are not aggressive nor do they interact with other individuals like schooling fish do. Wanderers are mostly chased by other fish including Ocean surgeonfish and damselfishes. Occasionally, Blue Tangs form large multi-species aggregations with other surgeonfishes as seen above.
Blue tangs may benefit from forming schools for two reasons. First, individuals may experience lower rates of predation when feeding in large groups. Second, by feeding in groups, fish might be able to work together to overcome the territorial defenses of other fishes. For example, a single blue tang is easily chased away by an aggressive damselfish defending its territory. However, when a large school of blue tangs and their schoolmates try to feed on algae in a damselfish’s territory, there is little that the damselfish can do. When this occurs, the damselfish frantically, but ultimately fruitlessly, attempts to chase away their more numerous attackers while the school consumes all of the algae in their territories.
Blue tangs are active during the day, hiding in crevices on the reef at night to avoid predators.
Juvenile blue tangs are solitary and occupy home ranges that increase with body size. Juveniles aggressively defend their home ranges from juvenile ocean surgeonfish. Juveniles also avoid damselfishes that overlap in range with them.
I think Aimee and I are diving tonight with the blue-lights after cycling but who knows, plans change quickly here!
Mar 16, 15 Comments Off
Good morning friends, I have three different colored Trumpetfish, Aulostomus maculatus for your viewing pleasure today, all found on one dive in front of the Sea Aquarium. These are the three main colors we have here in Curacao with yellow being the harder of the three to find and yellow being the harder to approach for some reason?? The top photo shows our red trumpetfish being cleaned by a juvenile French butterflyfish (black and yellow striped) and there is even a little goby on his back.
Trumpetfish are long-bodied fish with an upturned mouth and often swim vertically while trying to blend with vertical coral, such as sea rods, sea pens, and pipe sponges. They are widespread throughout the tropical waters of western Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Brazil including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Trumpetfish occur in waters between 0.5 and 30 meters (1.6 and 100 feet) deep, and can grow to 40 to 80 cm (15 to 31 in) in length. They are sometimes locally abundant over coral atoll reefs or in lagoons, where they may be caught even in areas of severe wave action. The spawning habits of the trumpetfish are unknown, but in the region around Madeira, the females are known to have mature eggs from March to June.
Trumpetfish are closely related to cornetfish which are rarely seen in Curacao. Trumpetfish can be a bit more than 36 inches (3 ft) long and have greatly elongated bodies with small jaws at the front end of their long, tubular snouts. The gills are pectinate, resembling the teeth of a comb, and a soft dorsal fin is found near the tail fin. A series of spines occurs in front of the dorsal fin. Trumpetfish vary in color from dark brown to greenish, but also yellow in some areas. A black streak, sometimes reduced to a dark spot, occurs along the jaw, and a pair of dark spots is sometimes found on the base of the tail fin.
Trumpetfish swim slowly, sneaking up on unsuspecting prey, or lying motionless like a floating stick, swaying back and forth with the wave action of the water. They are adept at camouflaging themselves and often swim in alignment with other, larger fishes. They feed almost exclusively on small fish, such as wrasses and Atheriniformes, by sucking them suddenly into their small mouths.
I had a crazy busy weekend!! Last night was the first night my four tortoises slept in their new home, I more or less worried about them all night! I called this morning first thing and all is going great, will run out there today and take some photos and try to post it for tomorrows blog.
I have to get to the water…
Have a wonderful day.
Mar 11, 15 Comments Off
Bon Dia from Curacao! I have a cool Peacock Flounder for you all today that I photographed as he swam under me gliding down the reef to his next resting area. As many of you know we have a bunch of fish that are always in the same areas and can easily be found, this is one of them. Do I have names for them?? Well no, but I’m thinking I should, many have been here for so long and they are so used to me that I am able to get very close.
The peacock flounder is also called flowery flounder because it is covered in superficially flower-like bluish spots. As suggested by the family name, lefteye flounders have both eyes on top of the left hand side of their heads. The eyes are raised up on short stumps like radar dishes, and can move in any direction independent of each other. That feature provides flounders with a wide range of view. One eye can look forward while the other looks backward at the same time. The baby flounders have one eye on each side of their bodies like ordinary fish, and swim like other fishes do, but later on, as they are becoming adult, the right eye moves to the left side, and flounders start to swim sideways, which gives them the ability to settle down flat on the bottom. The maximum length of this flounder is about 45 centimetres (18 in).
Peacock flounders are mostly found in shallow water on sandy bottoms. Sometimes they rest over piles of dead corals or bare rock. They may be found as deep as 150 meters (490 ft).
As most flounders, the peacock flounder is mainly nocturnal,but is sometimes also active during the day. It hunts for small fishes, crabs and shrimps.
Like all flounders, peacock flounders are masters of camouflage. They use cryptic coloration to avoid being detected by both prey and predators. Whenever possible rather than swim they crawl on their fins along the bottom while constantly changing colors and patterns. In a study, peacock flounders demonstrated the ability to change colors in just eight seconds. They were even able to match the pattern of a checkerboard they were placed on. The changing of the colors is an extremely complex and not well understood process. It involves the flounder’s vision and hormones. The flounders match the colors of the surface by releasing different pigments to the surface of the skin cells while leaving some of the cells white by suppressing those pigments. If one of the flounder’s eyes is damaged or covered by sand, the flounders have difficulties in matching their colors to their surroundings. Whenever hunting or hiding from predators, the flounders bury themselves into the sand leaving only the eyes protruding.
The wind is still blowing like crazy and I think today is supposed to be even worse? I went for a 20 mile ride last night and pretty much got blown away! I tried to ride trails that were in semi protected areas but the second I popped out into an open area it was like sitting on a stationary bike pedaling like crazy!
Off to the sea……..
Mar 10, 15 Comments Off
Good morning from one of the windiest places on the planet! Today and tomorrow we are expected to have insane winds here which is great for keeping the mosquitos away but bad for walking, diving and biking!
I have a mega beautiful Redlip Blenny, Ophioblennius macclurei sitting so patiently on the edge of a little overhang letting me take his or her photo, it was great! Normally these fish are very shy and although they will return to their same roost time after time it usually takes a lot of waiting and trying to gain their trust! Here in Curacao these little shallow water fish are found in two color variations. One is the reddish brown color (above) and the other is a beautiful grey with a red head but only the reddish brown one has the sexy Revlon colored lips! These fish can reach a maximum size of about five inches but rarely do I ever see them that big. They seem to prefer shallow water even if it’s rough, I see them often in the 1 to 35 foot zone.
Redlip blennies reproduce year-round in the ten days before and four days after the full moon in each month. The male and female pair up in the first three hours of daylight, and the female moves to the male territory. The male has to prepare a nest for depositing eggs. In order to prepare a nest, the male makes a “small box-like” space in its territory and removes coral rubble and dead algae crusts from the space. One male redlip blenny usually has five nests, and the amount of time he spends at each nest is determined by how much the nest is favored by females. Usually the most favored nest has a larger inner surface area and volume than the less favored ones. When a female redlip blenny enters a male’s nest, the female chooses whether or not to mate with the male. Larger males with larger nests have better chance of successful mating than smaller males with smaller nests. During spawning seasons, males reduce their feeding. The eggs are deposited in a single layer, and the male guards and cares for the eggs by blowing air onto them until they hatch as planktonic larvae. The egg batches in one nest may be at different developmental stages because the male redlip blenny is polygynous, mating with multiple females. In other words, the eggs have different mothers. Female redlip blennies tend to be polyandrous as well, meaning that there are multiple nests with one female’s eggs.
Female mate choice primarily relies on the male’s genetic quality (aka. how good his gene is) and/or his non-genetic quality. A male is recognized to have a good gene, if he has physical features that are suitable for survival. Usually, big body size indicates good genetic quality. Mating with a male of good genetic quality assures that the offspring will also have good genes and thus the physical features favorable for survival. This eventually will propagate the female’s own genes. The non-genetic quality includes many examples, such as a good parental care. A good parental care does not guarantee good genes for the offspring. However, a good parental care can increase the survival rate of the offspring, thereby spreading the female’s genes.
Female redlip blennies consider both the genetic and non-genetic quality of the male. First of all, they choose males largely based on their sizes (genetic quality). Larger males can better protect the female and the eggs against predators. Furthermore, larger male redlip blennies have larger antimicrobial organs at their anal-urogenital regions, which they use to prevent microbial infection in the eggs. Female redlip blennies also consider males’ allopaternal care when choosing mates (non-genetic quality). Allopaternal care proves to the female that the male is capable of protecting the eggs from predators. Finally, a statistical study showed that female redlip blennies may prefer older males because the age of the male could reflect his survival ability and thus guarantee the offspring better fitness (chance of survival).
The submersible is headed out in search of rare fish, I may jump in and shoot a new school of baby squids that we have here now but with the wind creating these big swells that may be difficult.
Have a great day…..
Mar 9, 15 Comments Off
Good morning all, I have a very tiny, super cute “yes, fish can be cute” juvenile Spotted Drum for you all today. Finding these newborns on any given dive is always a major bonus and photographing them is usually not that difficult. Drums are very territorial and even as babies they will not go far from their home, they just swim in circles all day long in one spot seemingly unafraid of everything! I have seen these tiny babies swimming right in front of giant eels and groupers and never were they in danger? That tall “pole like” dorsal fin you see on top of the head will get much longer and start looking like a sail, it’s truly one of our coolest fish on the Caribbean reef. Once this little drum reaches adulthood it will have a much bigger body with a beautiful spotted tail. It will also have a black stripe across the eye making the eyeball very hard to see and it’s pec fins will become much smaller than what see you see here. Drums reach a maximum size of about 11 inches, this one here was less than a inch!
I spent the weekend working on the new home for our four red footed tortoises which should be done and ready for them to move in by this next weekend, we can hardly wait!!!
I got in a fast 25 mile ride yesterday, it was windy and hot and very uneventful!
I have a dive with the submersible soon, I need to get ready!
Have a great day…
Mar 2, 15 Comments Off
Good morning friends, I have some flying gurnards for you all today with the top photo showing a close-up of their cool separate, finger-like pectoral fin that looks like a hand used for digging food and turning over rocks. Aimee and I love finding these guys which are usually always in sandy areas, they are always so busy digging (creating a cloud of silt) and for the most part could care less about divers, you just need to stay at a safe distance. Here in Curacao in Papiamentu they call these fish “Bulado di Benewater”, in Dutch they call it, “Vliegende Poon”, I’m just sticking with Flying Gurnard myself!
The flying gurnards are a family, Dactylopteridae, of marine fish notable for their greatly enlarged pectoral fins. As they cannot literally fly or glide in the air (like flying fish), an alternative name preferred by some authors is helmet gurnards. They are the only family in the suborder Dactylopteroidei.
They have been observed to “walk” along sandy sea floors while looking for crustaceans, other small invertebrates and small fish by using their pelvic fins. Like the true gurnards (sea robins), to which they may be related, they possess a swim bladder with two lobes and a “drumming muscle” that can beat against the swim bladder to produce sounds. They have heavy, protective scales and the undersides of their huge pectoral fins are brightly colored, perhaps to startle predators.
Most species are in the Indo-Pacific genus Dactyloptena, but the single member of Dactylopterus is from warmer parts of the Atlantic. The adults live on the sea bottom, but many species have an extended larval stage, which floats freely in the oceans.
I had a very busy and full weekend. Yesterday I did the Run-Bike-Run event starting at 8:00 with my buddy Arjan, he ran like the wind and I did the 45 minute sprint. we placed 3rd overall, that’s not bad for some old guys!
Busy day on tap, have a great week all!
Feb 25, 15 Comments Off
Good morning all, gearing up for two dives with our submersible today, the first will be at 11:15 ish and the next at 1:30 ish, it’s always hard to stick to an exact time. You might get lucky and catch some of the action on our live underwater video at www.seesubmaine.com As most of you know by now my job is to meet the sub between 50 & 100 feet and photograph it’s lucky passengers before they descend into the Caribbean darkness, and remember we can take you down to an insane 1000 feet!
I have a Stoplight Parrotfish, Sparisoma viride in it’s initial phase meaning it will loose all the colors you see here and change into it’s terminal phase consisting of an emerald green body with salmon to yellow markings on the head and body. Even as babies or juveniles they look different than the photo above giving them three different color phases throughout it’s life. Of all the parrotfish species I chase around the reef with camera in hand, the Princess Parrotfish is the hands down easiest to approach (they could care less) and the Stoplights follow at a close second, but most of the others like the Blue’s, Midnight’s, Rainbows and Yellowtails are scared to death and won’t allow you to get close.
Parrotfishes are a group of about 90 species traditionally regarded as a family (Scaridae), but now often considered a subfamily (Scarinae) of the wrasses. They are found in relatively shallow tropical and subtropical oceans throughout the world, displaying their largest species richness in the Indo-Pacific. They are found in coral reefs, rocky coasts, and seagrass beds, and play a significant role in bioerosion. A number of parrotfish species, including the queen parrotfish (Scarus vetula), secrete a mucus cocoon, particularly at night.
Prior to going to sleep, some species extrude mucus from their mouths, forming a protective cocoon that envelops the fish, presumably hiding its scent from potential predators. This mucus envelope may also act as an early warning system, allowing the parrotfish to flee when it detects predators such as moray eels disturbing the membrane. The skin itself is covered in another mucous substance which may have antioxidant properties helpful in repairing bodily damage, or repelling parasites, in addition to providing protection from UV light. Although they are considered to be herbivores, parrotfish eat a wide variety of reef organisms, and they are not necessarily vegetarian.
Species such as the green humphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) include coral (polyps) in their diets. Their feeding activity is important for the production and distribution of coral sands in the reef biome, and can prevent algae from choking coral. The teeth grow continuously, replacing material worn away by feeding. Their pharyngeal teeth grind up the coral and coralline algae the fish ingest during feeding. After they digest the edible portions from the rock, they excrete it as sand, helping to create small islands and the sandy beaches of the Caribbean. One parrotfish can produce 90 kg (200 lb) of sand each year. Or, very averagely (as there are so many variables i.e. size/species/location/depth etc), about 275 g per parrotfish per day. While feeding, parrotfish must be cognizant of predation by one of their main predators, the lemon shark.
Well, off to the sea, horrible visibility today due to a local beach being dredged!
Feb 23, 15 Comments Off
Good morning from Curacao, how was your weekend out there?? We finally got a few little rain showers but to be honest it didn’t do much!! On my three hour mountain bike ride Sunday morning I was pretty shocked at how dry the island is looking, I hate the thought of another year of drought conditions!
We found yet another bird (big pigeon) in need last night over at our neighbors house, it was just sitting on the steps and not moving very much. I watched for awhile from a distance and then towards dark went to check on him again and he was still there. I calmly walked up the steps, he didn’t move so I picked him up and took him home, he seems to have a bad foot or something, will take him to the vet on Wednesday.
I have a Red Hind sea bass for you all today being cleaned by a little neon colored Sharknose goby. This is quite the situation. You have a big fish- eating sea bass allowing a tiny goby to swim all over it’s body, it’s a case of “you clean me and remove all my parasites and I won’t eat you”, sounds like a plan to me! These Red Hinds are very difficult to get close to, they are scared of their own shadows and rarely have I ever been able to get close enough for a photo. I think in this case he was pre-occupied with getting cleaned and although alarmed let me move in close enough for a photo but usually one shot is all you will get! This variety of sea bass is VERY common on our Caribbean reefs, they can reach a maximum length of about 2-feet and can be found in the 10-160 foot range.
Busy Monday on tap….
Have a great day all.
Feb 19, 15 Comments Off
Good morning from Curacao!! I have two different species of Caribbean Goatfish for you all today. The top photo is a beautiful school of Yellow Goatfish, Mulloidichthys martinicus and the bottom photo shows a Spotted Goatfish, Pseudupeneus maculatus at night in it’s “inactive color phase”. During the day the Spotted Goatfish (seen here in reds) looks almost the same as the Yellow Goatfish at the top, both species have the crazy ability to change colors in the blink of an eye, it’s again just one of those weird things you have to see to believe!! Goatfish remind me of goats on land, they will eat just about anything and spend most of their days digging in the sand, silt and algae for food, they are not picky eaters! They use their chin barbels (long finger like projections under the mouth) to probe the sand as they search for the mollusks, worms and crustaceans that they feed on. While many goatfishes occur singly, the yellow goatfish is a school-forming species. It regularly occurs in large groups (numbering in the hundreds) during the day and will sometimes even form mixed schools with the blueline snapper (Lutjanus kasmira). At night, yellow goatfish schools break-up and solitary individuals or small groups disperse onto surrounding sand patches to feed. This species is very similar to the spotted goatfish (Pseudupeneus maculatus). The latter species has a yellow lateral stripe, a feature that is lacking in the spotted goatfish, and a longer snout. The yellow stripe of the yellow goatfish changes into an oblong dusky blotch when the fish is hunting for food. The yellow goatfish reaches a size between 6-12 inches while the spotted goatfish grows to 5-8 inches. Spotted goatfish are normally never found below 60 feet while the yellows are commonly spotted down to 200 feet, that’s quite a difference in range.
We have a submersible run in 30 minutes and I have a long mountain bike ride going on late this afternoon, busy day on tap!
Have a great day…
Feb 16, 15 Comments Off
Hi all, so very sorry about the no blogs for the past four days but I have been crazy busy! On thursday and friday we had sub dive after sub dive, then came Valentines, and yesterday was spent entertaining friends from the Smithsonian. Yesterday was also the last day of Carnival and today monday is an official day off giving all involved in Carnival a day of needed rest. I’ve also been out in the desert cleaning the 2006 World Cup mountain bike course for the past 2 weeks trying hard to get that mess cleaned and rideable, boy you want to talk about a big project! I did a fast two hour ride Sunday morning before I met the Smithsonian and then in the evening Aimee and I took the dogs out for a long two hour walk, it’s been go, go, go!
I have a super cool, two inch Slender Filefish, Monacanthus tuckeri for you all today that I found hiding in a swaying gorgonian. These little fish are completely amazing and a thrill to watch! This fish has the ability to change colors in the blink of an eye and honestly if you don’t see it yourself it’s hard to imagine and describe! Above you can see him or her blending in with the dark background and without my lights or flash you would be challenged to spot this animal on your own. These fish normally drift with their heads down and tails up among the gorgonian forests pecking at bits of algae or finding tiny shrimps. If they leave this dark environment and float into a lighter coral, they will usually change their colors before they reach their destination and I swear if you take your eyes off this fish for a second it is gone!!! These fish also have a cool spine at the top of their heads that can be raised or lowered and is used for it’s own protection. The fish also has hundreds of tiny bards all over it’s body enabling it to hook itself if you will to the swaying corals to help it stay in one place which works great at night during sleep.
Filefish (also known as foolfish, leatherjackets or shingles) are tropical to subtropical tetraodontiform marine fish of the diverse family Monacanthidae. Found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, the filefish family contains approximately 107 species in 26 genera. Filefish are closely related to the triggerfish, pufferfish and trunkfish.
Their laterally compressed bodies and rough, sandpapery skin inspired the filefish’s common name; it is said that dried filefish skin was once used to finish wooden boats.
Appearing very much like their close relatives the triggerfish, filefish are rhomboid-shaped fish that have beautifully elaborate cryptic patterns. Deeply keeled bodies give a false impression of size when these fish are viewed facing the flanks. Filefish have soft, simple fins with comparatively small pectoral fins and truncated, fan-shaped tail fins; a slender, retractable spine crowns the head. Although there are usually two of these spines, the second spine is greatly reduced, being used only to lock the first spine in the erect position; this explains the family name Monacanthidae, from the Greek monos meaning “one” and akantha meaning “thorn”. Some species also have recurved spines on the base of the tail (caudal peduncle).
The small terminal mouths of filefish have specialized incisor teeth on the upper and lower jaw; in the upper jaw there are four teeth in the inner series and six in the outer series; in the lower jaw, there are 4-6 in an outer series only. The snout is tapered and projecting; eyes are located high on the head. Although scaled, some filefish have such small scales as to appear scaleless. Like the triggerfish, filefish have small gill openings and greatly elongated pelvic bones creating a “dewlap” of skin running between the bone’s sharply keeled termination and the belly. The pelvis is articulated with other bones of the “pelvic girdle” and is capable of moving upwards and downwards in many species to form a large dewlap (this is used to make the fish appear much deeper in the body than is actually the case). Some filefish erect the dorsal spine and pelvis simultaneously to make it more difficult for a predator to remove the fish from a cave.
The largest filefish species is the scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus) at up to 110 cm (43 in) in length; most species are below 60 cm (24 in) in length. There is marked sexual dimorphism in some species, with the sexes possessing different coloration, different body shapes, and the males with larger caudal spines and bristles.
Adult filefish are generally shallow water fish, inhabiting depths of no more than about 30 meters. They may be found in lagoons or associated with seaward reefs and seagrass beds; some species may also enter estuaries. Some species are closely associated with dense mats of sargassum, a particularly ubiquitous “sea weed”; these filefish, notably the planehead filefish (Stephanolepis hispidus) are also colored and patterned to match their weedy environments.
Either solitary, in pairs or small groups depending on the species, filefish are not terribly good swimmers; their small fins confine the fish to a sluggish gait. Filefish are often observed drifting head downward amongst stands of seaweed, presumably in an effort to fool both predator and prey alike. When threatened, filefish may retreat into crevices in the reef.
The feeding habits of filefish vary among the species, with some eating only algae and seagrass; others also eat small benthic invertebrates, such as tunicates, gorgonians, and hydrozoans; and some species eat corals (corallivores). It is the latter two habits which have largely precluded the introduction of filefish into the aquarium hobby.
Filefish spawn at bottom sites prepared and guarded by the males; both he and the female may guard the brood, or the male alone, depending on the species. The young filefish are pelagic; that is, they frequent open water. Sargassum provides a safe retreat for many species, both fish and weed being at the current’s mercy. Juvenile filefish are at risk from predation by tuna and dolphinfish.
Feb 10, 15 Comments Off
Good morning friends, I have a pair of Honeycomb Cowfish, Acanthostracion polygonia for you all today that I photographed just moments before sunset. Every day here on the Caribbean reef around dusk many species of fish set out to find a mate and spawn before sunset, it’s by far the best time to be out with a camera. These unique looking box shaped Cowfish usually spend the day by them selves but around dusk will set out to find a mate. Once found the Male (in front) usually starts the courtship ritual by bumping into the female, swimming fast circles around her and showing off his beautiful electric colors which they can change in the blink of an eye! I have seen times when two different males are fighting for the same female and it always ends in one male being chased off not to be seen again! These fish are fairly uncommon to see on any given dive and I have never found a baby one, it’s on our top 10 hardest fish to find list! The babies are golden yellow with little red spots and are super cute! These fish can reach a maximum size of about 18 inches and can be found in 20-80 feet of water. Cowfish spend their days awkwardly swimming around sucking algae off rocks and enjoy all kinds of meaty foods including shrimp, worms, clams, various mussels, snails, tunicates, and fish, they are not picky eaters.
The Smithsonian just took off again down in the submersible and will not return for many hours. This trip seems to be more about collecting data than fish as they have not brought up much for yours truly to photograph.
Hope all is well out there…
Feb 5, 15 Comments Off
Good morning friends, the eagle has landed! The trip was great, I got in tons of riding on some of the best trails in Tucson and met up with a bunch of old friends from my years in the fossil business. I stayed with my mom the whole time eating like a king and feasting on some of the best Mexican food in Tucson, boy am I going to miss that! I’m still disappointed in Nikon and their failure to get my camera cleaned and repaired which has been there for over three weeks, I can’t believe I returned without it!
The Smithsonian has arrived once again and will be using our mini-submersible to do research and hunt for new specimens, I will keep you posted on any new finds.
I have school of Mahogany Snappers, Lutjanus mahogoni for your viewing pleasure today that I found hanging out in a beautiful forest of swaying gorgoinans. These fish are fairly easy to approach and photograph if you move in very slow, (never directly towards them) and swim along side them or slowly past them, there is always time for a nice shot or two. These fish are silver to white with a reddish tinge and have a reddish border on their dorsal and anal fins. Also, there is often a dark spot below rear dorsal fin. Mahogany Snappers can be found drifting alone or in small groups (as you see above) over coral reefs, often in the shadows of gorgonians and coral heads in 20-60 feet of water. Their size ranges from 7-12 inches with a maximum length of about 15 inches.
Lots and lots to do today!!
Have a great day….
Jan 8, 15 Comments Off
Hi all, it’s been a busy morning again with diving leaving me no time to play on the computer. I took this photo just a few minutes ago at around 65 feet after waving good-bye to the visiting tourists inside the submersible. Once I finish doing my sub photos and it disappears into the abyss I always go on some kind of search to see what is new on the reef today. I honestly can’t resist swimming into this large school of these colorful Bonnetmount’s or Bogas, they are so much fun to hang out with. These fish seem know I’m not a threat and allow me to become part of their school but sticking with them can be very difficult. Not only because they are fast but also because they swim up and down and this is something you can’t do many times on scuba without getting in trouble. They also know that when I’m there no big predatory fish like those dumb amber jacks are going to make a move on, I’m their big human protector! This giant school has been here for years and they make going out to the reef a complete joy, in fact most days they will see me swimming out of the lagoon, they will race over to me and then swim circles around me or play with my bubbles.
Many of you know I’m taking off for a few weeks starting this Sunday for a little vacation, Aimee will stay here with the dogs. I’m headed to Arizona again to help test mountain bikes for Outside Magazine and spend time with my mom and my editor Tom. So, I’m not sure if I will be posting during these weeks or not yet but please check in, you never know.
That’s about it, have a wonderful day!