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.
One of the tompot blennies living on a reef nearby recently came to a grizzly end in the mouth of this young conger eel. I don’t think it would have happened to me because, unlike this poor guy’s home, my crevice has a ‘bolt hole’. Let me explain what I mean by this; an ideal crevice home has a fairly open front part where female tompots can be entertained and encouraged to lay their eggs but it also has a very narrow back part where you can hide when a streamlined predator like a conger eel pays a visit. This ‘bolt hole’ also gives extra shelter when the sea is very rough.
Having said all that, this poor tompot blenny was very unlucky to meet a conger eel that was just small enough to get into his home and just large enough to eat him. You can see what a struggle it was for the conger in the first photograph. Paul, my underwater photographer, saw the tompot blenny stuck in the conger’s mouth like that for over 30 minutes! When Paul and Teresa came back 12 hours later, they found a very sleepy full-bellied conger eel and no tompot blenny!
This blog is being posted for children on the Wildlife Trusts Wildlife Watch website.
For the first few weeks that I was looking after my growing raft of eggs, the view from my crevice home was stunning. I could see all the snakelocks anemones and thongweed gently swaying in the swell and several ballan wrasse (like the large fish in the photo) cruising around looking for crabs.
The eggs survived storm Katie and I’ve had great fun over the last few weeks. Several female tompot blennies have been to visit to lay their eggs in my home crevice as they know I’m a good dad. I was the first of the 4 local males to be looking after eggs and it’s a sure sign that, as soon as one female has laid, others will follow quickly after. They seem to prefer to lay their eggs with a male who already has eggs; going for proven quality and safety in numbers! There’s a small male in the crevice near mine and a generous female eventually laid a few eggs with him, while she laid a lot more with me.
I’ve now got eggs on the floor and ceiling and have a lot of egg guarding to do! I was busy at the back of my crevice the other day and a sneaky Connemara clingfish dashed in and ate a few eggs that were near the front entrance to my home. As soon as I spotted the cheeky intruder, I darted over and gave him a quick nip to scare him off. Hopefully it was enough for him think twice before coming to eat my babies again! I have to be careful when I choose my crevice home as these egg thieving clingfish are able to squeeze into narrower gaps between rocks than I can. That means they can hide in parts of my home that give them easy access to my eggs but which I can’t get into to chase them out. Now that is frustrating!
It’s hard work being a tompot blenny dad because lots of the reef dwellers are after my precious eggs. First the Connemara clingfish and now a topknot, a flatfish that likes to live on the rock, keeps trying to come in to my crevice. He’s quite big so I have to charge at him and nip at the same time so that he takes notice and goes away.
It’s a good thing I got my crevice home clean and ready for my female visitors. Just before Easter, a female that we now call Betty came to visit me and she laid a beautiful raft of eggs for me to look after. You can see me in the background of these photographs. The female tompot blennies tend to be paler than the darker more reddish coloured breeding males. In the bottom photograph, Betty is in the middle of laying her eggs and her ovipositor (egg laying organ) is showing.
Teresa and Paul came diving to visit us and were pleased to see that we had started to breed. Storm Katie came through a couple of days later so they are not sure whether Betty’s eggs have survived the storm. In any case, I’ll be trying to attract several other female tompots to visit me over the next two months to lay their eggs. Hopefully the weather will improve, so it will be easier for me to be ready for them!
When I have eggs to look after, I wipe them over with my special glands (that look like miniature cauliflowers) to keep them clean, healthy and free of bugs.
As soon as the sea is calm enough, Teresa and Paul will come and see me again and will be able to let you know how we are all doing.
Yes, I’m back in control of my territory again. My crevice will continue to be a safe home and give me good protection during the storms that are due soon. Winter is definitely on its way with the water temperature dropping down to 14C (it was 16C at its warmest) and the days getting shorter.
Hmm, take a look at the photo, there is a topknot on the rock above my head that’s been hanging around since the summer. I’m never quite sure of its intentions, as you can see I’m wary and keep out of its way. Hopefully, it will move into deeper water for the winter, like many fish, while I stick around here on my home reef.
A topknot is a flatfish that is adapted to live on rocks, it spends the most of its time upside down and holds on to the rock using specially formed fins. I always think topknots are a bit mysterious but the very young tompot blennies have much more to fear because they are just the right size for a topknot ‘snack’. If a big one tried to attack me, I’d stick my fins out and make myself too large and prickly to eat!
A while after I watched those youngsters fighting, I had an argument of my own to sort out. Another large male tompot blenny (that’s him on the right in the video) was spending too much time near my home, so I swam out to confront him. Our stand-off lasted nearly 30 minutes and the video below shows just a small part of it.
You can see we were both trying to scare each other away and prove we were the bravest, without actually using our teeth and risking getting a nasty injury. We’re a bit older and wiser than those youngsters! You could say we were ‘all show and no go’ but a lot of adult animals use that tactic, not just fish like me. Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know I saw the intruder off in the end and am still the proud boss of my crevice!
I’m thinking about my babies (tompot blenny larvae) swimming, eating and developing in the plankton, I hope they are OK.
It reminded me of this excellent video called ‘The Power of Plankton’ from SAHFOS* which promotes the importance of plankton – the amazing drifting part of my underwater world.
Did you know that the PLANT PLANKTON (phytoplankton) PRODUCES almost 50% of the WORLD’S OXYGEN? That’s one of the reasons why caring for our seas is so important!
By watching the video I also learnt that my babies are classed as MEROPLANKTON, along with the eggs, larvae and juveniles of many different types of fish. This also includes the young stages of other marine animals such as barnacles, crabs, starfish and sea anemones.
You can watch this video and learn all about these things for yourself here: wtru.st
Many thanks to SAHFOS *Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science www.sahfos.ac.uk for producing ‘The Power of the Plankton’ video.