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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Now I’ve got eggs to care for, I need to keep intruders away. This edible crab is too close and I’m concerned he wants to use those big claws to pick and eat my youngsters developing in their eggs. As you can see, I’m biting and pushing his leg to scare him off. He’s slow on the uptake so it can take a while but eventually he will get the message and shuffle off. Meanwhile, he is protecting his antennae, eyes and mouth from my attacks.
The velvet swimming crabs can be more difficult to chase away, as they like a fight. I use a different tactic with them because they are fast and have sharp claws. I harass them by darting in quickly so they don’t have time to nip me. I’m clever as well as very bossy!