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.
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.
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.
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!
At low tide today two snorkellers came to see me. Luckily I recognised Teresa’s mask and popped out to see her and Sam. You could see fish like me if you go snorkelling when the sea is very calm and clear, but take care and always go with an adult.