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?
Take a look at my blog from last year 30th September 2015 http://www.bennytheblenny.com/blog/?m=201509 to see a video of two very small tompot blennies play fighting.
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!!
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.
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!
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.