I’m still hiding away safely in my crevice
home. Phew! Well kind of, it’s still like being in a washing machine down here
after Storm Freya and Storm Gareth whizzed through followed by continuing wind
and rain. There is a lot of swell and 2 metre waves crashing in on my beach.
Optimistically, I can feel it in the water
that 2019 is going to be a good year for us tompot blennies. Us ‘bourgeois males’ (that’s the way males like
me that guard a crevice territory are described) are getting busy. We’re preparing
for the spring by clearing any debris from our homes, getting ready to
encourage our local ladies in to lay their eggs. It’s an ongoing job at the
moment because, as soon as I clear lumps of seaweed out of my home, the swell
whooshes them all back in.
I’m really hoping that, this year, we won’t
have anything like last year’s ‘Beast from the East’ sweep over and drop the
water temperature dramatically.
The seawater temperature is still 9 degrees
C and about to turn back up I think. The days are lengthening so spring has
Things are looking up now the water temperature has increased to 11 degrees after the warm Bank Holiday. Bradley has moved into my old crevice home and has a good raft of eggs. The crevice he moved out of has no tompot occupant for the first time in 10 years of observing the reef. A cheeky Connemara clingfish has moved in there! Bertram who is further round the reef is doing well and so is Byron, they both have eggs to look after. Paul is able to recognise us tompot blenny males individually from our face markings and that’s why we have names; this article in the Guardian is a photo story all about us – please take a look at this link.
I’m “eggscited” and “eggsstatic” now I have a full raft of eggs to look after! That’s because this spring I’ve:
a) secured a territory – my crevice home
b) done my spring cleaning
c) done an “eggscellent” job of attracting the local females in to lay their eggs.
I did this by wafting inviting smells (pheromones) from the enlarged glands just under my belly. Back on 24th March, Belinda was the first female to respond to my smelly message, she came in and had a good look at my home, I gave her a show of my bravado by whizzing round at lightning speed. Once I’d calmed down, she then decided to lay some of her beautiful dark purple eggs with me, which I fertilised immediately. Since then I’ve had visits from Brenda, Barbara, Bertha and Becky too. Belinda has been back twice. I’m very particular where they lay their eggs so you will see in the video that I boss them around to make sure they lay their eggs just where I want them to! They tolerate a little gentle barging and fin nibbling as they know I have a good track record as a Dad; I’ve lived in this crevice for 3 years and have been very successful looking after eggs.
I noticed this year that the females visited us more established males in the better crevices first. Byron and I are the ‘top dogs’ on the reef and we both had a good layer of eggs in our crevices a week or two before the females started to lay eggs with Billy, a small younger male tompot blenny with an inferior crevice home.
This pesky velvet swimming crab keeps creeping into my crevice home when I’m out searching for food. He doesn’t seem to get the message that he isn’t welcome, so I have to deal with him every time I get home. It takes a full blown head on barge, followed by careful manoeuvring to avoid his sharp claws. I then back in beside him and forcibly shove him sideways out of my crevice. As you can see from the video, I’ve nearly succeeded. It’s an uneasy truce for now but I’ll have another bash later!
I use a different technique to shift edible crabs from my territory, please take a look at my blog of 19th June 2015.
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.
Since the baby tompot blennies have settled out of the plankton, three noticeable things have happened. First, they have taken on camouflage colours and now match up with their background quite well. Next, they have a bright blue ‘eye’ spot on the front of their dorsal fin which they can flick up; does it make them look bigger and scare away other fish? Lastly, their head tentacles are developing well and they look like ‘mini me’ tompots as they explore my reef.
They are only 20 – 45mm long at this time of the year (depending on whether they hatched from their eggs early or late in the summer) but they are just large enough to be spotted and photographed by Paul and Teresa. What always surprises them is how these youngsters are very bold and like to show off in front of the camera! Wouldn’t you expect little fish like these to be much more timid and hide in the small crevices away from marauding predators?
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!