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.
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!
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.
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.
One of the tompot blennies living on a reef nearby recently came to a grizzly end in the mouth of this young conger eel. I don’t think it would have happened to me because, unlike this poor guy’s home, my crevice has a ‘bolt hole’. Let me explain what I mean by this; an ideal crevice home has a fairly open front part where female tompots can be entertained and encouraged to lay their eggs but it also has a very narrow back part where you can hide when a streamlined predator like a conger eel pays a visit. This ‘bolt hole’ also gives extra shelter when the sea is very rough.
Having said all that, this poor tompot blenny was very unlucky to meet a conger eel that was just small enough to get into his home and just large enough to eat him. You can see what a struggle it was for the conger in the first photograph. Paul, my underwater photographer, saw the tompot blenny stuck in the conger’s mouth like that for over 30 minutes! When Paul and Teresa came back 12 hours later, they found a very sleepy full-bellied conger eel and no tompot blenny!
This blog is being posted for children on the Wildlife Trusts Wildlife Watch website.
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.