Trumpetfish: Sneaky, Relentless Predators on the Reef

 THINK ABOUT THE MOST RELENTLESS HUNTERS ON THE REEF and most divers would probably envision menacing sharks, barracudas and moray eels. But those are mere grandstanders in the predation game. High on the list of sneaky relentless predators would have to be a species of fishes that Caribbean divers encounter so frequently – and that appear so benign – that they’re likely to take them for granted and ignore them. After all, the ever-present

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Sea Pearl Algae – A Species Spotlight

IF IT LOOKS LIKE A RUBBER BALL AND IT FEELS LIKE A RUBBER BALL, IT MUST BE…ALGAE, a version commonly called a sea pearl (Ventricaria ventricosa). Sea pearl algae is an occasional reef denizen found worldwide that stands out because it so often looks like a delicate glass ball. Typically about the size of a golf ball, sea pearls are remarkable for their structure. Each one is a single cell, all by itself. Its round,

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Reef Lizardfish, Ambush Experts

LIKE ALL LIZARDFISH, REEF LIZARDFISH ARE AMBUSH EXPERTS. With their typical lizard-ish posture of sitting up on their pectoral fins, their M.O. is to lie on the bottom and grab passing prey in the form of small (sometimes surprisingly large) fishes with lightning-fast strikes. Reef lizardfish (Synodus veriegatus) are Indo-Pacific denizens, one of some 45 species found worldwide in Family Synodontidae. LYING IN WAIT With colors and markings that help camouflage them, lizardfish are found on

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Black Coral: Many Colors – But Rarely Black

BLACK CORALS ARE PROBABLY BEST KNOWN AS SHINY, JET BLACK JEWELRY, but in their underwater habitats as living coral they’re more likely to be found in shades of soft reds, greens, yellows and other colors. They’re not stony corals – they grow in complex linear structures resembling trees, bushes or sea fans. The “black” part is the protein-based chitin that comprises the skeletons on which dense colonies of identical, individual polyps reside. In other words,

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Juvenile Slender Filefish

SLENDER FILEFISH (Monacanthus tucken) are only a few inches long and spend much of their time hiding out among gorgonians like this sea rod at the Turneffe Flats atoll off the coast of Belize.  They’re very good at camouflage and somewhat challenging to spot. They’re denizens of the Atlantic/Caribbean basin, found from the southeastern Caribbean as far north as North Carolina and Bermuda. SECOND OPINION PRINCIPAL SOURCES: Reef Fish Identification Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas; Reef Coral Identification, Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas,  Paul

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Banded Coral Shrimps – A Dance, a Wave & Maybe a Nice Massage

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS MAY BE THE FRIENDLIEST CREATURES ON THE REEF.  Well, they’re always waving at us. Waving, that is, their super-long white antennae trying to attract passing divers – okay, passing fishes, actually – to come over for a little close-up cleaning. With their prominent tentacles, red-and-white banded bodies and outsized claw limbs, they’re high-profile members of the fish-cleaning profession that’s also inhabited by anemone shrimps, cleaning gobies and other little (often-juvenile) fishes. Found in

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Yellow Stingrays – Where’s Waldo?

WHERE’S WALDO? That might be the question this yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis) hopes we’re asking, as it fluffs up sand to try to hide itself. In this case it didn’t work since we watched it approach and then proceed to bury itself – most ineffectively. YELLOW STINGRAY FACTS   U. jamaicensis typically measures 12 to 15 inches across, excluding the tail (although the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium, which has yellow stingrays in its collection, says they

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Sea Cucumbers – Superheroes  of the Seas

TO MOST DIVERS, SEA CUCUMBERS WOULD SEEM LIKE THE INACTION FIGURES of the oceans. Mainly, they come off as inert, sausage-shaped lumps lying randomly on the sandy bottom and perhaps the least interesting obects on the reef. In fact, some of them have real Captain Echinoderm moves in them. For one thing, they’re nocturnal so what you see in the daytime isn’t what you’d get at night, when they creep around on their little tube

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Black Durgons: In Living Color

BLACK DURGONS (MELICHTHYS NIGER) HAVE LONG BEEN BOTH A FAVORITE FISH OF MINE and a challenge to photograph. A favorite because I like their dramatic effect – all that blackness with blue stripes along their anterior dorsal and anal fins – and their wiggly technique of swimming powered by those fins. A challenge because, well, they’re black. They suck up light like a black hole. And (see above), they’re wiggly. I’ve shot more black, blobby

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Trunkfishes, Cowfishes: Boxy But Cute!

WHAT’S MORE ENDEARING THAN WATCHING A TRUNKFISH SWIM? Watching a baby trunkfish jiggle about trying to. Trunkfishes at their best are relatively inept swimmers, with bulky, triangular bodies and limited tailfin  propulsion. They row furiously, they move slowly and awkwardly. As juveniles, they’re small and round. Their tails are barely there, almost negligible, making for less control, with a certain amount of yeeing and yawing. It’s both irresistible to watch them work to master their

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