Our first big winter storm (called ‘Angus’) would have sent the cuttlefish jetting off to deeper water, thank goodness. The sea has calmed again since then, so Teresa and Paul decided to shore dive and swim out to my reef to see how we are all getting on. They were pleased that, even though it’s looking wintry (some of the big seaweeds have been stripped from the rocks by the power of the waves from the recent storm), there was a tranquil scene. Around my crevice, there was a spiny starfish and several painted top-shells (beautiful pink and cream sea snails) creeping over the vertical rock face; it’s a shame they are just too big for me to eat! Red-eyed velvet swimming crabs, and common prawns with their blue and yellow legs, were tucked into gaps between the rocky ledges. A conger eel and two lobsters were lurking in the deeper, larger crevices. Ballan wrasse were gliding around the thongweed on top of the reef.
Amazingly, the fearless new young tompot blennies were showing off among the rocks; they settled this autumn and are growing fast. The one in the video is now about 4 cm long and, as you can see, is a cool tough dude. That’s my babe, it definitely has attitude!
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!!
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!
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!
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.
Over the summer the eggs that I have been caring for have developed well; you can see them on the ceiling above my head. They look like amethyst gems (see Barbara’s eggs in the photograph) when first laid, then progress to a gold colour with a paler centre. Just before they hatch, their eyes become very obvious and it looks as though they are watching what I’m up to. I still clean all of them regularly by wiping them with my special gland (see blog 26/06/15) and protect them from predators.
It won’t be long now before the ones with well-developed eyes hatch. I will be sad to see them leave but my job is done. They need to go into the plankton and find the right size food so they can grow into young fish.
For more photos of British marine life why not check out www.marinephoto.co.uk!
Close escape today! I was on the ‘balcony’ (all right then, the rock ledge) outside my home, nosing around when whoosh down came a diving bird, a shag. It almost caught me in its sharp beak! I flicked speedily into the back of my crevice and stayed hidden there as the shag continued to swim around my rock, prodding its beak into many of the cracks and crevices looking for food. I saw an unfortunate corkwing wrasse (a type of fish) being crunched. I am now a bit nervous about coming out again. It’s a good thing I spotted this predator so quickly. Having my eyes set so high on my head is a brilliant adaptation that helps me see well in all directions.
The rocky reef that I live on is close to here. It’s just beyond the low tide mark but is always covered in water. Lots of tompot blennies live further offshore than this and in deeper water, sometimes down to 30 metres.