Little Tunny

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Osteichthyes
Order: Perciforms
Family: Scombridae
Genus: Euthynnus
Species: Euthynnus alletteratus

My husband loves to eat tuna. If he could have it every day, I think he would! Little tunny, or little tuna, is a common species of tuna found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Euthynnus allettatus can grow up to 48 inches and averages around 20 pounds when fully grown. The fish is has countershading, dark-blue gray coloring on top that fades to a silvery-white toward the belly. It has a torpedo-like shape that cuts down on water resistance, similar to species of sharks and dolphins. The base of the tail is thin, and the tail fin is crescent-shaped, allowing the little tuna bursts of speed to evade predators or to catch its prey.

There are two distinct features that help to identify little tunny. On the dark blue-gray top of the fish are a couple of wavy lines that form unique patterns running from the dorsal fin to the tail fin. The second feature is found underneath the small pectoral fins, five to seven small dots that stand out against the silvery-white.

Little tunny are considered opportunistic feeders, which is just a fancy way of saying that this fish will eat almost anything it can get a hold of. Typically, it will feed on crustaceans, smaller fish, and squid.

There is a wide range of organisms that prey on little tunny, including larger tuna, dolphinfish, swordfish, and various species of sharks.

E. allettatus reproduce between April and November around the Atlantic Ocean. Females will release their eggs into the open water for males to fertilize. Females release their eggs multiple times throughout the reproductive months, and the species can produce almost 2 million eggs per year. Whale sharks have been found in these waters, such as off the coast of Isla Mujeres, looking to gorge themselves on fish eggs.

These fish are very important to the local fisheries, including the West Indies. They’re a good fish to consume; the meat is darker and has a stronger taste than larger commercial tuna, and it can be prepared in a number of ways. Little tunny are also good game fish, because they give fishermen a bit of a challenge.

Their population numbers are good, and the species is considered to be of least concern of extinction by the IUCN Red List. If properly regulated, little tunny would be an excellent species of tuna to introduce to larger markets to ease off the pressure of other, scarcer species of tuna.

Isla Mujeres is on my list of places to go. I’ve already decided that while we’re there we’re going to try locally sourced little tunny, if it’s available. I would love to see if my tuna-loving husband enjoys this species of tuna!

Sources and links:
Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas 4th Edition by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach
https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/euthynnus-alletteratus/ ⇐more extensive breakdown of little tunny
https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/saltwater/tuna/little-tunny/ ⇐ key points
http://species-identification.org/species.php?species_group=fnam&menuentry=soorten&id=1925&tab=classificatie
https://www.fishbase.se/summary/97

Lionfish

A lionfish (Pterois volitans) rises up from the reef to hunt silversides. Photo taken by Dr. Alex Mustard, you can find more at www.amustard.com

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygi
Order: Scorpaeniformes
Family: Scorpaenidae
Genus: Pterois
Species: Pterois volitans

When talking about invasive species, I mentioned the lionfish. Can they hurt you? Yes. Are they devastating Atlantic coral reefs? Yes. However, they are not evil fish, despite one of their other common names: the devil firefish.

Pterois volitans is a beautiful fish native to the tropical waters of the eastern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean. They can be found in depths of 7−180ft (2−55m) near seagrass beds, coral reefs, artificial reefs, and sunken ships. I’ve seen them hiding in crevasses or overhanging ledges on the reef.

When diving, lionfish can be fairly easy to identify. Along the head and body of the fish are alternating maroon and white strips, stretching from top to bottom. Long, unique, fan-like fins, with the same stipe pattern, help the lionfish corner its prey against a reef or hard surface. Along the top, are long striped spines that you want to avoid.

Lionfish are carnivorous fish that prey upon shrimp, crabs, and more than 50 species of fish. In their native habitats, they help to keep the reef healthy, and their populations are controlled by the few predators that eat lionfish, including a couple of species of moray eels and the bobbit worm.

In the Atlantic Ocean, however, they can eat all the available prey in a given reef if gone unchecked. With no natural predators in the Atlantic, and the fact that they produce a lot of eggs each year, their populations have boomed while the populations of herbivore and commercial fish have decreased.

Despite their invasion of the Atlantic, lionfish are quite important. Whether it’s in the Pacific, Indian, or Atlantic Ocean, Pterois volitans provides food and income to the coastal communities. Divers pay good money to see lionfish, and the fish is often the target of many spearfishing tournaments in the Atlantic. You can win hundreds of dollars, depending on where you sign up! Because they’re so distinctive, lionfish can be easy targets for divers.

P. volitans are also quite popular in home aquariums around the world. Their unique coloring and flamboyant fins make for a great conversation starter at a party! Just a reminder, though: if you’re getting rid of your aquarium fish, please don’t dump them in the ocean closest to you. Take them to your local aquarium and ask for help. You never want to dump a potential invasive species in your ocean.

Another common name for lionfish is tastyfish. When I was studying in Jamaica, our dive teams would always bring spear guns, and we would hunt lionfish while exploring or doing research. When we’d come back to the lab, we’d clean them and give them to the lab’s cafeteria. Let me tell you, those wonderful ladies made some amazingly spicy lionfish!

If we make it more popular to eat lionfish, then that will help solve the population issues in the Atlantic, and it will help take the pressure off some of our commercial fish. So, the next time you’re at your local fish market or restaurant, ask for lionfish and let the owners know you’re interested!

The coloration of a lionfish is a special adaptation called warning coloration, which indicates to potential predators that it’s unsafe to eat the lionfish. In this case, the warning is legitimate. In the spines along the top are glands that store venom. When the spines puncture the skin the glands release the venom into the wound. The venom can cause excruciating pain, sweating, paralysis, and respiratory distress; rarely has it been fatal to humans.

I had a couple of classmates get stung by lionfish. One kid got stung by a live one they didn’t see in the reef, which is why you never reach your hands into areas you can’t fully see. Another kid got stung when handling a dead lionfish. In both cases, they had to be rushed to the doctor, but even after being treated, the wounds remained quite painful for a while. So please be careful while diving around lionfish or when handling them!

Lionfish (Pterois volitans) fritters offered as an after dive snack. Photo taken by Dr. Alex Mustard, you can find more at http://www.amustard.com

Sources and links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide by the American Museum of Natural History
https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/pterois-volitans/
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/ecosystems/impacts-invasive-lionfish
https://www.britannica.com/animal/lionfish
https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2013/07/19/top-5-myths-about-lionfish/
https://lionfishcentral.org/resources/lionfish-recipes/ ←lionfish recipes you can try at home!

Osprey

Photo of an osprey by Frank Cone from Pexels

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Pandionidae
Genus: Pandion
Species: Pandion haliaetus

The last bird I spoke of was a flightless bird, the African penguin. Penguins are the only flightless aquatic birds. Today, I’ll be discussing an aquatic bird that has been seen on every continent but Antarctica: the osprey.

Pandion haliaetus is a bird of prey that often gets mistaken for a bald eagle, at least in the United States. From far below, these two birds can look very similar. Both species are large (around two feet tall or more) with wing spans of five to six feet. Ospreys and bald eagles frequent many of the same hunting grounds too: rivers, lakes, estuaries, and other coastal areas.

They way to tell an osprey from a bald eagle is by the coloring. If the birds are flying overhead, a bald eagle has a dark underside while an osprey has a white underbelly and legs. If you get close enough to see their heads, look for the dark stripe that streaks away from the eyes of the osprey.

Ospreys primarily feed on fish. They soar high above the water until they locate their prey. Then the bird drives straight for the water and hooks its talons around a fish. Pandion haliaetus have specially adapted feet that allow them to keep hold of their slippery prey: their talons are long and curved, and the soles of their feet are spiny, the better to grip their prey. After catching its prey, the osprey returns to its nest high above the ground.

Fun fact: In the US, bald eagles will often attack ospreys, trying to get the slightly smaller bird to release its fish. Once the osprey releases the fish, the bald eagle stops pursuing it and grabs the fish from the air.

P. haliaetus are migratory birds. They like to spend their winters in warmer climes, so they travel to the southern hemisphere when the northern hemisphere cools for winter, much like a lot of older humans I know.

Ospreys like to nest high in the trees or on the crags of a seashore or estuary. However, they have made use of artificial places, as well; many of their nests have been found on top of street lights and telephone poles. Often, the ospreys will return to old nests for many years.

Ospreys have one brood a year, and their nests contain two or three eggs. Seven weeks after the chicks hatch, the fledgling ospreys leave the nest to venture off on their own.

In the 1950s-1960s, the osprey populations were declining drastically. Researchers discovered that their eggs were becoming too brittle, and the osprey parents were accidentally breaking the eggs when they laid on them to keep them warm.

Studies showed that a common chemical of pesticides at the time, Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), was found to be the cause of the brittle eggs, through a process called biomagnification. The process is a bit complicated to explain here; essentially, it’s a process whereby harmful chemicals build up as they travel up the food chain until they eventually become quite lethal to those at the top, such as predatory birds and humans.

Fortunately, this is not a sad tale like that of Stellar’s sea cow.

In 1962, Rachel Carson published the book Silent Spring wherein she described the effects and consequences of DDT. She made public the drastic declines of predatory birds, like the osprey and the bald eagle, and the cause of it. From Silent Spring, a movement was born, DDT was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, and stricter regulations on pesticides were passed.

Since then, the populations of osprey and bald eagles have bounced back with vigor. Ospreys have been labeled as least concern, meaning that they are no longer threatened by extinction.

I don’t believe that I have ever seen an osprey despite living near the coast. But I wanted to share this bird with you, along with its connection to Silent Spring as a reminder that not everything is doom and gloom in the world, at least when it comes to extinction and climate change. I wanted to show this as proof that we are not too far gone, that there is still hope for the future.

The book Silent Spring saved the ospreys and bald eagles of North America. If it was done once, it can be done again.

Who knows, maybe you will be the author of the next Silent Spring that awakens the world. Or maybe you’ll be one of the readers, doing your part to persuade a government.

Just remember that not all hope is lost.

Sources and links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide by the American Museum of History
Smithsonian Nature Guide: Birds by David Burnie
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/osprey
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Osprey/id
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/o/osprey/
https://nhpbs.org/wild/silentspring.asp <—some info on Silent Spring and DDT 

Common Bottlenose Dolphin

A pair of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) swim beneath the surface. Sandy Ridge, Little Bahama Bank. Bahamas. Photo taken by Dr. Alex Mustard, more can be found at www.amustard.com

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Tursiops
Species: Tursiops truncatus

So long and thanks for all the fish!

Do you know the significance of the number 42? Bottlenose dolphins sing a song about Earth’s destruction; quick, ask them before they leave the planet!

The world’s about to be destroyed
There’s no point getting all annoyed
Lie back and let the planet dissolve around you

Never mind; the dolphins are too busy. Forty-two is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything—at least, according to the super computer Deep Thought and Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!

For me, this is the 42nd post on this blog, and I thought I’d be funny about it. So, no, the world is not going to end and all the bottlenose dolphins aren’t breaking out into song before jetting themselves out of the ocean and into space. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, I highly recommend them.

Now, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming!

The common bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, is one of the most exposed dolphins in the world. They are very common in zoos and aquariums. They make appearances in movies or even star in them, like Flipper. They also like to hang around boats and can be seen close to the beach. When people think of dolphins, they usually imagine a T. truncatus.

Bottlenose dolphins are found in a variety of habitats around the world. Their distribution stretches from the temperate waters of the Northern Hemisphere to the temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere. Local populations of the common bottlenose dolphin can be found along every continent but Antarctica.

Tursiops truncatus have a wide head and body, short stubby beak, long flippers, and a relatively tall dorsal fin. These dolphins have a crease between the beak and the melon that allows researchers to distinguish common bottlenose dolphins from similar-looking species, like the Rough-toothed dolphins.

The common bottlenose can be found inshore of most coasts, living in or near bays, estuaries, coral reefs, or even the mouths of rivers that link directly to the sea. Other populations of dolphins can be found offshore in deeper waters. Offshore bottlenose dolphins look a little different from their inshore relatives with thicker, darker bodies and shorter flippers, though genetically they are the same species.

Bottlenose dolphins are extremely sociable creatures, between themselves and other animals as well, including pilot whales and human swimmers. Despite their stereotypical friendliness, they have been reported to be unfriendly towards other species of dolphins. Along with acting sociable, dolphins emit a wide variety of clicks, squeaks, and squeals that they use to communicate with each other and other pods of bottlenose. Research suggests that each dolphin has a specific sound associated with it, like a name, that other dolphins use.

T. truncatus are highly intelligent creatures. Depending on their prey, the dolphins use various tools and techniques to catch their food. Some use echolocation, the emission of high frequency sound, to locate and confuse fish. Others have been seen rushing a school toward the shore, getting the fish nearly beached before the dolphins catch and eat them.

The diet of the dolphin changes depending on where the pod is located. For instance, inshore dolphins may have more crustaceans and shrimp in their diet while offshore bottlenose have more deep sea fish and squids in theirs. Bottlenose dolphins are remarkably adaptable, even to the extent of learning to identify fishing vessels and shrimp boats, and incorporating the fisherman’s actions into their hunting behavior.

Overall, their population numbers are good. The species as a whole is not a concern for extinction. Local populations, however, are decreasing due to viral outbreaks, weaker immune systems due to biotoxins and pollution, loss of habitat, and depleted fishing stocks. On a smaller scale, many local populations of inshore bottlenose dolphins need help.

When I first got interested in the ocean, I wanted to work with dolphins. In elementary school, I had a well-worn book on dolphins and sharks that was a companion novel to a Magic Treehouse book. I was so proud of it!

Now my focus has changed to coral, and I have a love/hate relationship with dolphins. I absolutely love dolphins; they are beautiful, intelligent creatures that want nothing more than to eat and play—and boy, do they play! However, sometimes I feel that they get too much attention from the public, and other sea creatures are hurt by it, as in the example of dolphin-safe tuna.

I don’t have time to get into the history and nuances of dolphin-safe tuna; I’ll leave that topic for a future post. The common bottlenose is one species that I’ve loved since I was a child. My biggest complaint is that dolphins get more empathy—because they are warm-blooded creatures like us—than any other creature in the ocean, except for maybe polar bears. This lack of human empathy toward cold-blooded creatures can have a negative impact on the ocean, and, ultimately, dolphins to.

Sources and links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide by the American Museum of Natural History
National Audubon Society: Guide to Marine Mammals of the World by Randall R. Reeves, Brent S. Stewart, et.al.
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/c/common-bottlenose-dolphin/
https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/bottlenose-dolphin/
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/common-bottlenose-dolphin
https://www.britannica.com/animal/bottlenose-dolphin
https://animals.net/bottlenose-dolphin/

Humpback Whale

Humpback whale jumping out of the water. Photo taken from pexels.com

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Balaenopteridae
Genus: Megatera
Species: Megatera novaeangliae

When we speak, hum, sing, etc. we make those noises by vibrating our vocal cords. Sometimes, when you hum or hold a note, you can even feel the vocal cords in your throat. Whales can also sing. In fact, male humpback whales sing to communicate and can be heard for miles by other whales, each “song” lasting up to about 30 minutes.

Fun fact: scientists don’t know how humpbacks pull off singing, because they have no vocal cord.

Humpback whales get their common name from the way they arch their back when diving. They aren’t the largest or heaviest whales in the world, but they do have the longest flippers. Their fluke and wing-like flippers can help you identify the whale as a Megatera novaeangliae, and the unique white splash-like markings on those appendages allow scientists to distinguish between individuals, like a fingerprint.

These creatures can be found in all of the world’s oceans, in both tropical and polar regions, though they don’t venture too far up into the poles.

M. novaeangliae are a type of baleen whale, meaning that they don’t have teeth like we do, and they take in large amounts of water that, hopefully, contain a lot of krill and small fish. Humpback whales are different from other baleens because they can actually trap their prey through a process that is better to watch in a video or documentary (e.g. Blue Planet).

When humpbacks find swarms of krill or schools of small fish, they will try to gather them together. They do this by exhaling air while they spiral around their prey. This action creates a “bubble-netting” that confuses and traps the prey, allowing humpbacks to dive below and lunge upward to feed upon their prey. Like I said, I highly recommend watching this on a video or a documentary because it’s incredible to see, and if you get a chance to see it in person, all the better!

I feel like humpback whales are underappreciated. I first learned about them when I started watching nature documentaries in high school, but it wasn’t until college that they started getting more fleshed out in my mind.

They’re amazing creatures that produce eerily beautiful songs. I should know; I had to listen to some in a lab class in college, and they have a unique feeding behavior for baleen whales. While they’re not endangered or threatened, their populations have been reduced to a fifth of what it once was due to whaling practices—that’s mind-blowing to me!

If what you’ve read has piqued your interest, please take the time to learn more about these creatures. There’s so much that I couldn’t add, and who knows, maybe your curiosity will lead you into a job that will allow you to understand the mysteries of their singing.

Videos of bubble netting:

Sources and more reading:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide made by American Museum of Natural History
Ocean: A Visual Encyclopedia made by the Smithsonian
Marine Mammals Evolutionary Biology 3rd edition by Annalisa Berta, James L. Sumich, and Kit M. Kovacs
https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Megaptera_novaeangliae/
https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/humpback_whale
https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/humpback-whale
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/h/humpback-whale/
http://wildwhales.org/speciesid/whales/humpback-whale/
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/humpback-whale
https://us.whales.org/whales-dolphins/species-guide/humpback-whale/

Doctorfish

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Osteichthyes
Order: Perciformes
Family: Acanthuridae
Genus: Acanthurus
Species: Acanthurus chirurgus

Last time on Doctor Who, the Doctor was mortally wounded and forced to regenerate…again. This time, though, to everyone’s surprise and horror, the Doctor turned into a fish. And not just any fish, but the tropical surgeonfish known as the Doctorfish—bum bum buuuuuuuuuuuum!

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a giant nerd, and I laughed way too hard when I realized that I could combine Acanthurus chirurgus with Doctor Who. I have no shame—most of the time.

Anyways, the Doctorfish is a type of surgeon fish that inhabits coral reef areas and can be commonly found in Florida, Bahamas, and the Caribbean. They can also be found in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, north to Massachusetts, south to Brazil, your neighbors’ exotic aquarium, and the tropical waters of West Africa.

Color is not always an easy way to identify these Doctorfish because they can range from bluish gray to dark brown, and they can pale or darken dramatically between individuals. The major way to identify them while diving is by looking at the body; all doctorfish have 10‒12 vertical bars between their head and their tail. They also have distinct markings around their eyes, almost like flashy eye make-up.

Acanthurus chirurgus are herbivores that feed on algae, and they even have special teeth that allow them to pick off the algae growing in the sand, in rocky areas, and even on coral. In fact, these guys are really important to reef health because they can consume the algae that grow on coral, which would otherwise smoother the coral and their best friends, the zooxanthellae.

The origin of their common name is pretty cool. A. chirurgus have spines on either side of their caudal peduncle, or the base of their tail, that were discovered to be really sharp like a scalpel that doctors use. When feeling defensive, surgeonfish will use those spines as weapons by slashing their tails side to side at their aggressors.

Typically, Doctorfish will keep their distance from divers and will try to stay away if approached. However, people handling these fish can get serious injuries which are often quite painful and can lead to serious infection, especially since there is a crazy amount of bacteria and viruses in a single drop of water! So please be careful when diving with or handling doctorfish!

They are a common fish species found in private aquariums, and while they are not considered to be at risk of becoming endangered, you should still be aware of how they are caught and sold before purchasing individuals for your aquarium.

The doctorfish was one of the fish species I had to learn to identify for my Coral Reef Ecology class in college. I’ve seen them a handful of times when diving around reefs, and I’ve even watched them eating the algae from the coral, which was pretty cool to witness. I’ve read that you can eat Doctorfish, but I won’t try that because of the slight chance of getting ciguatera poisoning—which I’ll save for another ramble!

Sources and cool links:
Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas 4th ed. By Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach
http://species-identification.org/species.php?species_group=caribbean_diving_guide&menuentry=soorten&id=209&tab=beschrijving
https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/acanthurus-chirurgus/
https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/177982/1510626
https://www.fishbase.de/summary/943

Jackass/African Penguin

Photo by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spenisciformes
Genus: Spheniscus
Species: demersus

First, I would like to clarify that this penguin has two accepted common names, Jackass and African penguin, and I’m not just cursing just for the fun of it. The two common names are used to describe unique features of this species of penguin.

This species is known as the African penguin, because it lives on the coasts of South Africa and in the south Atlantic and southern Indian oceans. It’s lovingly called the Jackass penguin because when it calls out for a mate it sounds like a braying donkey, and the name “Donkey penguin” just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Seriously though, take the time to watch videos of these guys’ mating calls—it will make your day!

Not all penguins live in arctic climates. The African penguin has adaptations that allow it to survive the cold temperatures of the oceans and the sweltering heat of Africa. It has a dense coat of feathers that keeps it warm and water proof. For the hotter weather, its pink glands above the eyes collect blood that is then cooled by the surrounding air to help keep the penguins from overheating.

Jackass penguins grow no bigger than about two feet tall, making them one of the smallest penguin species. It looks very similar to its South American cousin, the Magellanic penguin, but instead of having two black bands on its chest, the jackass penguin has only one black band.

Another cool feature about these guys is that each individual display a unique flecked pattern on its feathers that acts like a fingerprint. Each pattern is unique and allows researchers to keep track of who is who. Jackass penguins can hold their breath for up to 2‒3 minutes and can dive down to 400 feet to catch small fish such as anchovies and sardines, small squid, and crustaceans. African penguins are also really good parents, even if they keep their eggs in nest made of guano (seabird and bat poop). They don’t always mate for life but they stay together through incubation, hatching, and raising.

I’ve liked penguins ever since I was little, but they were never really a main focus of my affections. Penguins are still interesting to read about because each species has their little quirks, like these guys that sound like braying donkeys when they’re looking for a lady. I highly recommend taking the time to read up on these penguins’ they’re the only species of penguin in Africa, and they’ve been declared to be endangered. There are already programs in place to help protect this species, but even that can’t completely stop the overfishing of their food sources.

Penguins braying like donkeys:

Sources and cool links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History
https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/African_penguin.html
https://animalfactguide.com/animal-facts/african-penguin/
https://oceana.org/marine-life/seabirds/jackass-penguin
https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/african-penguin

Psychedelic Frogfish

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Lorphiiformes
Family: Antennariidae
Genus: Histiophryne
Species: H. psychedelica

©David Hall / seaphotos.com

You have my lovely husband to thank for today’s topic! I had never read anything on the H. psychedelica until my then-fiancé spotted this fish in a book we had purchased from our local aquarium. A side from the picture of this creature, the book contained no information on the fish beyond its name and location. Since I couldn’t find any additional information in my personal library, I had to rely on the (gasp!) Internet to educate me.

Psychedelic frogfish are a very rare fish first discovered in the early 1990s. The two that were caught died shortly afterward and were misidentified as cryptic anglers that were in “poor condition,” their stripes disappeared when preserved for later studies.

It wasn’t until psychedelic frogfish were photographed in the wild in 2008 that researchers started to believe that they had discovered a new species of frogfish. After DNA testing—which is the way we confirm new species today—the fish were determined to be the first in a new genus, Histiophryne.

Psychedelic frogfish are tiny fish that grow to be no more than 10 cm (about 4 in) long, and they have frills that grow from their faces like a lion’s mane. These fish get their name from their unique coloring of blue-green, white, and yellowish-orange stripes that form a fingerprint-like pattern. In fact, the patterns are unique to each individual, which allows researchers to recognize specific fish. The other fascinating thing about their coloring is that it looks very much like a brain coral’s grooves and ridges, giving the fish an excellent disguise from predators and prey.

For those who know about frogfish and anglerfish, you’re probably wondering why the psychedelic frogfish needs to hide from prey—that behavior is weird for the family. Yes, it is weird, but unlike its cousins, the psychedelic frogfish doesn’t possess a noticeable lure, or illicium, growing from its forehead that could be used to attract prey. Therefore, it needs a clever disguise to hide in the coral rubble and snag its grub. What better way to do that then by looking like a coral?

The other thing we know about them is that they are “egg-brooders”, in other words, they hug their eggs to their bodies to protect them from predators until they hatch.

Not a lot is known about H.psychedelica because they are such a rare fish that’s limited to one area, as of this writing. If you think these guys are cool, maybe you can be the first to make some huge discovery about them that gets your name in a bunch of research papers and textbooks. I think these guys are pretty goofy looking, but in a cute way, and they are kind of hypnotizing—I could watch videos of them for hours!

Sources and cool links:
https://diveintoambon.com/tag/psychedelic-frogfish/
https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Histiophryne-psychedelica.html
https://scubadivingresource.com/psychedelic-frogfish/
https://crittersresearch.com/2016/03/01/psychedelic-frogfish/

Sea Otters

Photo of a Sea Otter taken by Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genius: Enhydra
Species: Lutris

Today we’re going to discuss sea otters! These adorable carnivores can be rather cool to read about, especially when you get into behavior, adaptations, and their ecological role in their environment.

The sea otter is the only otter that can spend its whole life in the ocean, all other otter species dwell near the water for resources but lack the adaptations needed to live in the water. One such adaptation is their fur in sea otters, which was highly coveted by fur traders a century or more ago because of how dense it was.

In fact, they have the densest coat of all mammals, their hairs are so tightly packed that water can’t penetrate, keeping them nice and dry in the cold Pacific waters. And while all the other mammals are jealous of their glorious fur, the sea otters need it because they lack any real fat to help keep them warm.

These guys can be found along the coasts of Japan, Alaska, and California and especially near kelp forests. Enhydra lutris are what we call a keystone species because of their massive impact on the kelp forests, which I’ll discuss in a later post.

Sea otters are carnivores that feed on crabs, sea urchins, and mollusks. They can dive up to 40 meters to grab food that they bring to the surface, and then they use a stone to crack open shells and other protective covers so they can get at the meat inside.

I know what you’re thinking, if these guys can’t breathe underwater how do they sleep? Well, they use the giant kelp around them to help prevent them from drifting out to sea with the ocean current. They also live in communities with other sea otters, making them social creatures. When they need to rest they’ll form groups called rafts, and they’ll hold onto each other to keep their friends and baby otters from drifting out to sea—cute, right?

Like I’ve said earlier, there is so much more to sea otters than I can discuss in a single post. If I’ve piqued your interest, then I highly recommend looking at the links I’ve provided below! They’re cool mammals that use tools to help them with food and survival, and they’re also extremely adorable to watch. If I could do several more posts about sea otters I would, but that wouldn’t be very fair to the other sea creatures that are incredible in their own right!

Sources and cool references to check out:

Ocean the Definitive Visual Guide by the American Museum of Natural History
https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Enhydra_lutris/#food_habits

https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/animals-a-to-z/sea-otter