Things are looking up now the water temperature has increased to 11 degrees after the warm Bank Holiday. Bradley has moved into my old crevice home and has a good raft of eggs. The crevice he moved out of has no tompot occupant for the first time in 10 years of observing the reef. A cheeky Connemara clingfish has moved in there! Bertram who is further round the reef is doing well and so is Byron, they both have eggs to look after. Paul is able to recognise us tompot blenny males individually from our face markings and that’s why we have names; this article in the Guardian is a photo story all about us – please take a look at this link.
Oops, I’ve had a bit of a blogging blip, my human assistant Teresa has been ill and unable to help me put my thought bubbles into the blog. She’s up and running again now so my blog is too. And I’ve so much to tell you!
What did you think of that very cold snowy spell, ‘the Beast from the East’ I think you called it? Well that and the second freezing blast that followed was bad news for us tompot blennies and lots of other coastal marine animals. The inshore seawater temperature dropped to 7 degrees C (in normal winters it only drops to 9 degrees C) so, even though the daylight changes were telling us that it was time to breed, it was too chilly to swing into action. You can see in the photo that a female laid a few eggs with Bradley, one of the other male tompot blennies on the reef, at the end of February. Teresa thinks it was the unusually cold conditions that meant they were slow to develop and didn’t survive. We’re way behind where we were last year.
As soon as any new eggs are laid, I quickly fertilise them to make sure I’m their Dad. You’ll see me wiping the eggs over in the video, and the photo shows my special glands with the honeycomb pattern. These glands are only this big when I’m attracting females in the spring and then looking after the eggs. They shrink in size at the end of July or in August after my last batch of eggs has hatched.
The first purpose of the glands is to produce delightful smells to attract the females. Teresa wonders if their second job is to smear the sperm over the eggs to fertilise them (I’m keeping that bit a secret at the moment). The glands’ third and most important job is to produce a special slime that I constantly wipe over the developing eggs that the females have left in my care. This magic slime keeps the eggs healthy and in good condition.
Lots of the types of fish you find in rock pools are like me and guard their eggs at this time of year. If you pick one up, please put it back immediately where you found it!
I’m “eggscited” and “eggsstatic” now I have a full raft of eggs to look after! That’s because this spring I’ve:
a) secured a territory – my crevice home
b) done my spring cleaning
c) done an “eggscellent” job of attracting the local females in to lay their eggs.
I did this by wafting inviting smells (pheromones) from the enlarged glands just under my belly. Back on 24th March, Belinda was the first female to respond to my smelly message, she came in and had a good look at my home, I gave her a show of my bravado by whizzing round at lightning speed. Once I’d calmed down, she then decided to lay some of her beautiful dark purple eggs with me, which I fertilised immediately. Since then I’ve had visits from Brenda, Barbara, Bertha and Becky too. Belinda has been back twice. I’m very particular where they lay their eggs so you will see in the video that I boss them around to make sure they lay their eggs just where I want them to! They tolerate a little gentle barging and fin nibbling as they know I have a good track record as a Dad; I’ve lived in this crevice for 3 years and have been very successful looking after eggs.
I noticed this year that the females visited us more established males in the better crevices first. Byron and I are the ‘top dogs’ on the reef and we both had a good layer of eggs in our crevices a week or two before the females started to lay eggs with Billy, a small younger male tompot blenny with an inferior crevice home.
Well, the storms have gone, the sun is out, the seawater temperature which has been around 9 C most of the winter has just crept up to 11 C and, most importantly, the days are getting much longer. I’ve been cleaning out my crevice home to ensure that the floor and ceiling are perfect for egg laying; I flick and shiver over the surfaces clearing off any mud and nibble away at little barnacles and worm tubes that have been growing over the winter. All this to prepare the maximum surface area to impress the female tompot blennies that I invite in.
You might think that I’m not fussy about which females I attract to my crevice home but you’ll find I have my favourites. Yes, Paul’s research into our fishy community Unique face markings has suggested there is a pecking order amongst the females. As I’m one of the top males with an excellent crevice home, and a proven track record for being a good dad looking after eggs, the top females like to lay their eggs with me!
Just after the video for my last blog was taken, I kept seeing dark shapes being swept past my crevice home. It took a while but then it dawned on me what they were. The waves had ripped lots of kelp (a large type of seaweed) off the rocks around my home and it was being swished around in the waves. I’ll have to be careful when I venture out as it could damage me.
A lot of the kelp will be washed up on the beach. This photograph shows a pile, 1 metre deep, that arrived all in one night… pretty impressive!
The recycling gang will have to get into action on the beach; sand hoppers, beach hoppers, kelp flies and other small creatures will break it all down over the next month or so. More broken off kelp will stay around the gully in front of my rock, it will be eaten by thousands of amphipods and isopods (small crustaceans). Those amphipods and isopods will eventually be a nice feast for me, so that’s the good side of the storm, yum yum!
This smallspotted catshark egg case (mermaid’s purse) was washed up with the seaweed too!
You can see that all us fish have different ways of bringing on the next generation. Super-Dad blennies like me guard our eggs http://www.bennytheblenny.com/blog/?p=240, while the single catshark and ray eggs are wrapped in those tough ‘mermaid’s purses’ so they don’t need to be guarded. Some fish, like plaice and cod, don’t guard the eggs or give them a strong coat, they just produce so many of them (plaice ~500000, cod over a million) that they reckon a few are bound to survive. That sounds a bit too risky to me!
That wasn’t Storm Doris at the beginning of February; she flew through last Thursday with Storm Ewan following hot on her heels yesterday (Sunday). So I’m still laying low and keeping safe hiding in my crevice home until the calmer conditions return. Paul and Teresa have discovered that us ‘superDad” tompot blennies often live in and guard the same crevice on the reef for at least 3 years.
I have survived and stayed in my home through many tough times. Paul’s study showed that we could even weather the terrible storms in the winter of 2013/14.
Have you been to a beach just after a storm? You often see lots of cuttlefish bones washed up, of all different sizes. Cuttlefish aren’t as good as me at finding a safe place to shelter from the swirling sea.
I’m glad I chased that velvet swimming crab out when I did. I’ve been in dire need of my crevice home to myself for the last few days. Gales hit the south-west coast but there seems to be some debate whether it was just very windy or officially ‘Storm Doris’, as some of the newspapers called it. It felt like Storm Doris to me. Take a look at this video, imagine what it’s like around my reef, a bubbly wild underwater whirlpool! I’m staying hidden away in the narrowest, snuggest part of my crevice for now, using my fins to keep me safely in position.
The winds are now easing but there is still a big swell coming in from the open sea. The surfers are enjoying it!
This pesky velvet swimming crab keeps creeping into my crevice home when I’m out searching for food. He doesn’t seem to get the message that he isn’t welcome, so I have to deal with him every time I get home. It takes a full blown head on barge, followed by careful manoeuvring to avoid his sharp claws. I then back in beside him and forcibly shove him sideways out of my crevice. As you can see from the video, I’ve nearly succeeded. It’s an uneasy truce for now but I’ll have another bash later!
I use a different technique to shift edible crabs from my territory, please take a look at my blog of 19th June 2015.