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.
Although I have a good number of eggs to guard already, and I’m busy looking after them in my crevice home, females still visit me to lay more.
I usually have only one female visitor at a time (see blog 11/4/2016) but this time for some reason, I had three visitors all at once. The divers, Paul and Teresa were amazed; they’d never seen a male tompot blenny quite that popular before! Maybe it was because the special smells I waft out to attract females were particularly powerful or perhaps none of the other males on the reef have room for more eggs at the moment.
That’s me on the right; I’m slightly darker and redder than the visiting tompot blenny females – Beth, Bella and Brenda (yes, we can all be individually recognised see blog 24/3/2016). Luckily, they seemed to get on OK with each other, and I was certainly happy for all three to come in and lay their eggs. I was then very busy fertilising all those extra eggs. What a brilliant breeding season it’s turning out to be.
I’m keeping watch for predators and intruders. You can see from this video that I have unusual eyes and can look in different directions at the same time.
I’ve spotted something interesting. I’m off!
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.
Wildlife Watch Benny the Blenny’s blog that site also has lots of other fun things to look at too.
AKA the phytoplankton (plant plankton) bloom, it’s as if the green curtains have come down! You can see in the photo below that when the sea is calm, I normally have a fantastic view from my crevice home, but it’s now like green fog (see the photo above)! It’s because the phytoplankton (millions of tiny plants living in the sea) have been growing and multiplying madly! Like the plants in your garden, they need the right conditions to grow. The seawater has now got a little warmer, there is enough light (the days are longer) for lots of photosynthesis and the right amount of nutrients are there so they go wild! These conditions happen every year in the spring, around the first week of May near Plymouth, and less dramatically in the autumn. My view might be spoilt but there is a big up-side to this phytoplankton bloom; lots of food for the zooplankton (animal plankton) to eat and then lots of them for other animals to eat! This all means that there will be plenty of food for my babies that are about to hatch from their eggs. See blog 27/08/2015. They will spend several weeks drifting with the plankton, eating the smaller zooplankton at first then moving onto the larger zooplankton as they grow up a bit.
When the green fog is here I have to use my sense of smell to find food as I can’t see very much! Hopefully it will all clear in the next couple of weeks and the divers will be able to come back to see how I’m getting on.
For more information about plankton take a look at http://www.lifeadrift.info
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.
Among other things, it shows how you can use face markings to tell us individual tompot blennies apart.
As you can see from the photo I have an angular sloping ‘M’ shape mark just under my eye and my photographer and marine biologist Paul Naylor uses this face marking as well as others on the front and other side of my face to be sure it is me he is looking at! He has recently realised we are all different and has built up a collection of ‘mug shots’ (photographs) for all the tompot blennies that he sees regularly on my reef. Being able to name each of us by our face markings has made it easier for him to understand our behaviour.
Paul now knows we have fights over territory and females, we can stay in our crevice homes for at least 4 years and I have guarded the eggs of several different females for at least 2 years. This information has just been published by him and David Jacoby (Zoological Society London) in the Journal of Fish Biology. So I’m now an important research fish too!
This link will take you to a slideshow that tells you more about it: wtru.st
I’ve noticed that the days are getting longer again so it feels as if spring is nearly here. The divers, Teresa and Paul, have just managed to swim along to see me again in between storms. They visited in January but didn’t see much of me as I was tucked away at the back of my crevice. This time they noticed that I’d been busy cleaning it out ready for inviting in the local female tompot blennies. I’ve carefully flicked out any sand and debris left by the storms, so the floor and ceiling are clear and ready for them to stick down their eggs. I’m the best at this job!
It’s a pretty important time of year for me as there’s a lot more activity around my reef. I’ve kept control of my crevice all winter but, as spring kicks in, many of the other younger males will try their luck fighting me for my territory! I’m bigger, older and wiser than them so am confident of keeping it. Paul has got close-up photographs of my face markings so that he’s sure it’s definitely still me that’s here!
By the time they next dive to see me, they might be able to see the eggs I will be proudly protecting!
It’s World Book Day today, have you seen my book?
In Benny the Blenny’s Shallow Sea Adventure you will be able to read all about me and my neighbours: crabs, cuttlefish, sea anemones, starfish, seals and fish that live on my reef. Do I eat them or do they try to eat me? Take a look at it here: www.amazon.co.uk