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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sea Things #12: Sharp Nosed Puffers

Sea Things is a regular feature on my blog where I profile a different sea creature. Look for it weekly, or something close to weekly.

These are funny and cute little guys, called Sharp Nosed Puffers, or their scientific name, Canthigaster punctatissimus.  They are also known (to aquarists, anyway), as tobies, and are very small - about 3 inches long, max.  They use their little pointy noses to catch small animals (crill, etc) out of the water and off of the reef.  They swim around using their little pectoral fins, which they wildly flap in order to swim.  Most of the time, you just see a few of them around on the reef, hanging out, doing their thing.  There is no diver hand signal for them, because they are too common and generally not pointed out.

We never had really thought much about Sharp Nosed Puffers, until we went to Belize.  Something had happened there and Sharp Nosed Puffers were everywhere.  I mean everywhere.  It's one of the major things that I remember about being in Belize - huge amounts of Sharp Nosed Puffers.  That is where we learned their names.  They would even hang out with us, as if they were using us as protection to hide from other fish, and one even made it up to the boat with Todd after our safety stop.  You could easily hold them in your hands and feel their little pectoral fins up against your palm.  It was pretty cool, but strange.

Here is a photo of me, and what is in my hand is a Sharp Nosed Puffer:

Doing research today, I found some interesting things about the particular population explosion of Sharp Nosed Puffers that we saw in Belize in November, 2008.  While we were there, our dive master simply said, "They just spawned," as a reason.  However, that isn't 100% the exact case, now that I've done some online research.  John C. Ogden, who is director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography wrote on a NOAA listserv:
My guess is that sharpnose puffers have the same type of recruitment as Bill Gladfelter and I observed for balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus) many years ago in St. Croix. The larvae are pelagic for a long larval life, up to a year. During this interval; they slowly gather into huge schools of many thousands of individuals (about 3cm long) which then recruit en mass to whatever coastal region is favorable within the time frame of development. The area then becomes completely flooded with recruits which gradually disperse and are preyed upon. You could call this a sort of 17-year locust type of recruitment.
Truly facinating.


Is there a creature that you would like to see featured in Sea Things? If so, shoot me an email and if I can, I'll write about it. Photos on this post are courtesy of Todd Krebs.

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