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.
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.
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!
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.
Talking of marauding predators, I watched this cuttlefish cautiously from the safety of my crevice home. It grabbed a small fish with its long tentacles and I wondered who had been the unlucky victim. Before the cuttlefish jetted away, I saw a sea scorpion’s tail sticking out from its tentacles. That fish’s camouflage hadn’t deceived the superb vision of the cuttlefish this time, with fatal consequences! Sad to see I guess, but cuttlefish have to eat and better a sea scorpion than a tompot blenny, especially as sea scorpions can eat young tompot blennies too.
Since the baby tompot blennies have settled out of the plankton, three noticeable things have happened. First, they have taken on camouflage colours and now match up with their background quite well. Next, they have a bright blue ‘eye’ spot on the front of their dorsal fin which they can flick up; does it make them look bigger and scare away other fish? Lastly, their head tentacles are developing well and they look like ‘mini me’ tompots as they explore my reef.
They are only 20 – 45mm long at this time of the year (depending on whether they hatched from their eggs early or late in the summer) but they are just large enough to be spotted and photographed by Paul and Teresa. What always surprises them is how these youngsters are very bold and like to show off in front of the camera! Wouldn’t you expect little fish like these to be much more timid and hide in the small crevices away from marauding predators?
Take a look at my blog from last year 30th September 2015 http://www.bennytheblenny.com/blog/?m=201509 to see a video of two very small tompot blennies play fighting.
You’ve seen how my amazing my babies were swimming around in the plankton. The ones that managed to avoid being eaten and found enough plankton to eat have grown to around 2 cm long and have now settled back on the reef. The researchers are not sure how they find a good home reef. It may just be luck or something to do with them being able to recognise the smell of the area they hatched from. Some coral reef fish know which reef is home from the sound the waves make!
When my babies first settle they are quite colourless, but soon take on camouflage colours to help them match their surroundings. You can see that their head tentacles have started growing and their pectoral fins are just visible with some black pigment.
Thank you to the National Marine Aquarium Plymouth for their help in getting this photo. The NMA is an excellent place to see tompot blennies like Benny the Blenny and lots of other UK marine life.
Hey, this shows what my tompot blenny babies look like when they have left home, having hatched from those eggs that I’ve been guarding. Swimming among the plankton in the open sea, they are very sleek with gorgeous big eyes and are between 4 and 20 mm long.
When they first hatch they eat very small plant (phyto-) plankton and animal (zoo-) plankton, the youngsters grow quickly and are then able to eat larger plankton. Bigger fish larvae and jellyfish in the plankton are a real danger and my babies have to make smart evasive moves if they see they are about to be grabbed!
If you would like to find out more about plankton visit:
This photo was made possible by the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth so many thanks to them. Paul, my underwater photographer, would never be able to spot and photograph one of my babies in the wild!
When I’m guarding all the eggs in my crevice, I have plenty of time to watch them develop. Something I notice is how they change colour. You can see in blog 21/4 that when Brenda laid her eggs they were like perfect amethyst jewels, a lovely deep purple, stuck in a very neat honeycomb pattern on the floor of my crevice. As I cared for them, the viable eggs i.e. the ones that were healthy and that I’d successfully fertilised, developed from purple into beautiful golden globes.
Over the few weeks after that, they progressed so the baby fishes’ eyes could be seen shining silver. The eyes are large relative to the eggs, so part of the whole layer looks sparkly silver and it feels as though all the eyes are on me!! Because several different females have laid the eggs at different times (this is called partition laying), I am often looking after the three stages of eggs at the same time. Not at the moment though, it’s now the end of the season and I’m just waiting patiently for the last few sparkling silver-eyed eggs to hatch. Phew, I can then build up my strength again because being a ‘stay at home dad’ is very exhausting!!
This photo shows my friend Maisie being a Tompot girl. Thank you Maisie, I’m very proud to be starring in the July 2016 BBC Wildlife magazine. My underwater photographer Paul Naylor has written a fascinating article about me, my tompot blenny neighbours and the other colourful fish that live on my reef. The magazine’s the copy with the mugshot of the whiskery hippo on the front cover.