Set-up Illustration: Edge of wall fading into back shot with a star coral head in the foreground and a Spinyhead Blenny (Stevie) sitting atop of it.
I am a Blenny. There are many different kinds of Blennies that you will meet as you swim across the pages of this book with me. I am a Spinyhead Blenny (Illustration Fish 268-269) and my name is Stevie. I live on a star coral head (Illustration Coral 113, Pisces 4, Cayman Videos) in a hole that is just big enough for me to peek out of and check out my neighborhood in the daylight. At night, the coral polyps blossom (Illustration Coral 114, Pisces 4) around my hole and the corals feed on Plankton that float in the water. Plankton (Illustration Cayman Videos) are living microscopic organisms. Nature gives me this beautifully fragile and automatic front door of coral polyps for my home and I never have to remember to close it before I go to sleep at night. I live in a very safe neighborhood in about thirty feet of water along the edge of the ocean’s vertical wall. I go to school at Outer Reef Elementary.
I am a very small fish. As you can see, I am only about one inch long. I am not brightly colored. Proudly, I am a grayish brown and black color that helps to hide me from the bigger fish on the reef. I do not have any real enemies. If we Blennies get eaten, it is usually because a bigger fish did not see us when he was out to lunch. We Blennies eat microscopic nutrients that float in the water, just like the coral polyps do. That is why we live side by side so well. We can eat each other’s leftovers.
Star coral head in foreground dotted with many Spinyhead Blennies, resembling a condominium, with Stevie featured predominantly, looking in the distance towards a brain coral head.
I have many neighbors who are also Spinyhead Blennies. Sometimes my coral head looks more like a Blenny condominium. As long as no one tries to jump into another Blennie’s hole, we all get along wonderfully. I have a friend who just settled further west along the wall on an uninhabited brain coral head (Illustration Coral 125, Pisces 67, Cayman Videos). What a smart thing to do. It is a new Blenny frontier.
You are welcome to read along with me while I go and visit with him, but please try to not touch the corals on the reef as we go. The coral heads on the reef have a slimy skin layer that rubs off when it is touched. Without this protection, our corals are exposed to bacterial infections. Its skin protects it just as your skin protects you. If our corals die, then we have to move and find a new home in a different neighborhood.
I’m going to see my friend Elwood, and his coral head is just over there. I can see it from here. Of course it would be a lot quicker to swim in a straight line from here to there, but I do not like to swim in open water. It is safer to stay on the paths that I know in my own neighborhood.
Tri-montage illustration of a Spinyhead Blenny (Stevie) 1. Crossing over an algae pasture (Coral, Page 197); 2. Crossing over a rippled white sandy area; 3. Traveling through a bony lettuce-leaf shaped coral forest (Coral, Page 147).
Here is the route that I take. Follow along with me and please try to keep up. Out of my hole I go, swimming just above the star corals, without touching them of course; through some algae pastures; across a rippled white sandy area; zigzagging in and out of the bony lettuce leaf-shaped corals that have a lot of nooks and crannies for playing hide and seek; and when I come out of the coral forest, I find my way through another pasture of algae. I see Elwood peering out of a little hole atop of a beautiful brain coral head.
One Spinyhead Blenny (Elwood) sitting atop of a brain coral head, which was earlier seen from the star coral head, welcoming a second Spinyhead Blenny (Stevie).
“Stevie! Welcome! Welcome to my new neighborhood. What do you think of it?”
“This is really great Elwood. You have the first hole on this coral block and what a view it is!”
“It’s great Stevie. There’s not much fish traffic here. I always have the reef of way when I’m swimming around my new home.”
“Traffic! Let me tell you about traffic! It took me such a long time to get here because I kept running into other Blennies. Of course I had to stop and chat. Of course they all wanted to know where I was going.
“Oh I can imagine Stevie, but please tell me who you saw.”
Quad-montage illustration of a Spinyhead Blenny conversing with animated creatures: 1. Roughhead Blenny (Oscar) at base of star coral head by reef rock, with a memory burst of hiding a bouquet of hydroids behind his back facing another Roughhead Blenny who is obviously female; 2. Saddled Blenny (Rosy) in equestrian attire in lettuce leaf coral forest with yellow and white striped seahorse; 3. Diamondhead Blenny (Ruby) in equestrian attire in an algae pasture with a red Seahorse; 4. A Yellowheaded Jawfish (Daphne) batting her baby blues, hovering
above a burrow in a white sandy patch area, with a puff of an angel’s halo above her, with little hearts steaming off of the Spinyhead Blenny (Stevie).
“On my way over here, I saw Oscar the Roughhead Blenny who lives at the (Illustration Fish 271) base of my coral head.”
“And how is Oscar?”
“Well, Oscar is no longer dating Myra. He is dating his next door neighbor now. He said that she caught him picking a bouquet of hydroids (Illustration Creature 77) for Myra from her garden and he was so startled that he unexpectedly gave them to her instead of Myra. They have been dating ever since.”
“I also saw Rosy the Saddled Blenny (Illustration Fish 263, Guide Plate 44) in the lettuce leaf coral forest. Rosy just got a new yellow and White Striped Seahorse (Illustration Fish 317, Pisces 67, Cayman Videos) and she will be competing this weekend to beat the record for the longest glide. Her closest competitor is going to be Ruby, who I also saw.”
“And where did you see her?”
“Ruby the Diamondhead Blenny (Illustration fish 261) was in the algae pasture.”
“Does she still have that same Red Seahorse (Illustration Fish 317, Guide Plate 23, Cayman Videos)?”
“Yes she does, and she is not at all worried about the match.”
“Good for her. Anyone else?”
“Oh yes. In the sand flats, I saw Daphne the Yellowheaded Jawfish (Illustration Fish 287, Guide Plate 43, Pisces 61, Cayman Videos). I think that she is so pretty. She looks just like an angel hovering above her rabbit-like burrow. Her eyes are as blue as the tips of a blue Giant Ball Anemone (Illustration Creature 89, Cayman Videos).”
“Stevie, she is a Yellowheaded Jawfish and is five times bigger than you!”
“Gee thanks Elwood. Did I ever say anything like that to you when you had a crush on Dionne the Red Lipped Blenny (Illustration Fish 281, Guide Plate 43)? She is the same size as Daphne.”
“Right you are. I apologize for poking fun at your gills.”
“Not to worry. Anyway, I told everyone that I was coming to visit with you and they all asked me to say, ‘Hello’, so ‘Hello’.”
“Thank you Stevie. It’s so nice to know that we have so many friends living in our little community.”
Illustration of two Spinyhead Blennies (Stevie & Elwood) sitting atop of a brain coral head.
“Elwood, is the wall on the other side of this coral head safe? Can you play safely in your neighborhood?”
“Everything seems to be okay, but it is funny that you mentioned Dionne to me. I saw her just yesterday. She still lives further north of us up in the shallows.”
“How are the neighborhoods up there?”
“Dionne said that there have been some scuffles with the Sailfin Blennies (Illustration Fish 267, Guide Plate 44, Photo) who live to the east of her in the sea grass plains.”
“They have always isolated themselves from the rest of us, and they can’t even get along with each other. I am so glad that we’re not like that. It would be awful to live like that, always scuffling.”
“Well Stevie, Dionne and I were thinking that maybe the rest of us Blennies who can live together peacefully should go to the plains to find out why they are behaving like this. There must be an explanation. What do you think about that idea Stevie?”
“Yes. Yes. That is a splendid idea Elwood. If we don’t, the fighting might spread to our community. We should send out a sound wave signaling for everyone to gather here. Together, on the count of three…”
Single page illustration of two Spinyhead Blennies (Stevie & Elwood) sending out a “Ballyhoo” with an abandoned hermit crab shell with Oscar, Rosy , Ruby and Daphne responding to the summons.
“I think that it’s wonderful how sound travels four times faster underwater than it does on the other side of the beach…I mean up on land where the two-legged creatures live.”
“Yes I agree. We are very fortunate.”
“Look! Look! Here comes Oscar and Rosy and Ruby and oh, here comes Daphne too.”
“Here comes Dionne as well.”
“Great, now we are all here.”
Trailing illustration of Stevie, Elwood, Oscar, Rosy, Ruby and Daphne being led by Dionne, the Red Lipped Blenny across a sandy path and into a lettuce leaf coral forest.
After a brief meeting to discuss the purpose of our adventure, we are off. Dionne is leading the way up into the shallows to visit with the scuffling Sailfin Blennies. In convoy formation, we are traversing over the sandy paths and through the coral forests.
Illustration of Stevie, Elwood, Oscar, Rosy, Ruby, Daphne and Dionne being tossed a bit in the surge in the shallower water where pieces of the reef surround them.
As we climb the reef into shallower waters, the surge from the waves becomes stronger as the wind is blowing the water up to meet the shoreline. We are tossed back and forth until we round the corner and come into calmer waters in an enclosed bay area where there is no wind blowing across the surface of the water.
The convoy comes into calmer water with flat sands resembling deserts between sparse coral heads and a flat plain of seagrass (Pisces, Page 10). They are crouched down behind a solitary massive coral formation spying on a larger Sailfin Blenny (Perry) and a smaller Sailfin Blenny living in a piece of coral that is about four inches in total size. The smaller Sailfin is cowering from the larger Sailfin.
“Finally, no waves or surge. Whew!”
The coral heads are sparser here, and it is almost like a desert. As we climb shallower still, we arrive at the sea grass plains. We are wondering were these Sailfin Blennies live.
“How much farther?” asks Oscar.
Dionne answers, “We have arrived. They live over there in those broken pieces of coral and rocks in the protection of the sea grass where there is also plenty of food.”
We gather together behind a solitary coral head to watch and see if what we have heard is true. There are two Sailfin Blennies, one larger and one smaller, living in a piece of coral that is about four square inches in total size. The smaller Sailfin is crouched down inside his hole while the larger Sailfin repeatedly springs in and out of his hole. As he does, he simultaneously erects his dorsal or back sail-like fin. The little Sailfin seems to be cowering with fear from his more aggressive neighbor.
Why are they fighting? They live in the same neighborhood. Whoever wins, if anyone does, will not gain rights to his neighbor’s house.
Dionne explains, “I’ve heard that they are fighting for dominance and nothing more.”
This does not make any sense to us. We see this as abnormal behavior. Fish do not normally antagonize other fish of their own kind. It is more natural for us fish to stick together. There has to be a more logical explanation.
Face-off showing a line-up of Elwood, Oscar, Rosy, Ruby, Daphne and Dionne with Stevie one step forward from the group, with an emphasis on color, facing Perry with the smaller Sailfin behind him, observing from the piece of coral.
Together, we appear from behind the safety of the coral head to introduce ourselves to this estranged group of Blennies. The Sailfins look up to where we are standing in our spectrum of colors of gray, yeallow, red and green, red and black and yellow and white. We wear different colors but we are all Blennies and more importantly, we are friends who live in one community as neighbors.
A beautifully muted turquoise Sailfin Blenny approaches us. His dorsal fin is relaxed against his back. As my group’s spokes-blenny, I take a deep breath and move forward.
“Good afternoon. My name is Stevie and these are my friends Elwood, Oscar, Rosy, Ruby, Daphne and Dionne.”
For a moment, I think that he is not going to say anything. Maybe he speaks a different language, but then he says,
“I am Perry. Why are you here in this neighborhood?”
“We are curious.”
“Curious about what?”
“Curious about why you live here by yourselves.”
“We live here because the water is calm. You can see that we have larger dorsal fins than other Blennies. If we were to move around the corner where you live, we would be tossed in the surge that is caused by the surface wind. Our fins would catch the water like a kite in the air.”
“Oh. We did not think about that. We are curious about something else. Why do you fight amongst yourselves? If it is true that your fin is erect only when you are fighting, it would appear to us that you fight amongst yourselves.”
“It would appear to be so, but actually it is our nature.”
“It is your nature to fight?”
“You misunderstand us. It is our nature because it is how we communicate.”
“Can you not communicate without fighting? You are not flaring your dorsal fin now.”
“I am calm right now. When you observe our dorsal fins flaring, we are more excited. You misunderstood this to be aggressive. We are communicating with what Mother Nature has given us. I can understand that sometimes it appears that we are sparring because we talk with our fins, but we never take it so far that someblenny gets hurt.”
I think to myself that the movement of a Sailfin Blenny’s fin might be like the movement of an excited Human Being who is talking with his/her hands.
Illustration of a peace treaty where both sides are shaking fins.
My friends and I glance at each other and when our eyes meet, we know without saying a word
that we now have a better understanding about this behavior and agree that it is time for us to
find our way back to our own homes, before Night pulls its blanket up and over the ocean’s floor. We all shake fins and we begin our trek back across the sandy paths and through the coral forests.
We say good night to Dionne first and then continue on our way. Elwood and I see that Ruby, Rosy and Daphne arrive home safely for the night. Elwood and I stop to talk about what we have learned.
Closing speech by Stevie…
“It is important that when another fish communicates differently than we do, that it’s good to be curious about trying to understand why it is so, before we judge it. If we believe that something is abnormal or different than us, we must remember that in a different neighborhood, it might be necessary.”