Brittle Star (Ophiothrix suensoni)
Brittle stars are echinoderms in the class Ophiuroidea, closely related to starfish. The arms measure up to 5 inches long and the central disc up to 1 inch in diameter. Primarily nocturnal, the beautiful brittle star is plentiful at Turneffe Atoll and we often see them in and around sponges. A recent study has revealed that brittle stars move in a very unique way- they do not move according to a central axis. Rather, they move perpendicular to it using one of their whip-like limbs to point the way. To change direction, brittle stars simply use a different limb to point the way and move accordingly with the other four limbs.
Diving blog highlighting all the amazing under water creatures and beauty. Discover Belize’s newest and largest Marine Reserve and most biologically-diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere with Turneffe Flats Diving team.
Brittle Star (Ophiothrix suensoni)
Creature Feature: Lionfish (Pterois volitans) The hunt continues – The quest for control of an invasive species.
Dressed as though decked out for Carnival, these beautiful fish have taken over the Caribbean waters. Native to the Indo-Pacific, lionfish thrive in our rich waters which provide an excellent environment to breed and dine without the risk of natural predators. Their unchecked movement has taken them from the Carolinas down the eastern seaboard, on an island hopping journey to Colombia, and all the way down to the Amazon and back up into the Gulf of Mexico in as little as 10 years. Numbers have continued to soar over the last two decades. In an effort to thwart the destructive actions of these voracious fish and to create a balance on the reef, ongoing efforts are being made throughout the Caribbean to cull them in the hope of restoring the balance.
Lizardfish (Synodus Intermedius). This ferocious little fish is often seen darting around the reef’s sandy areas at lightning speed catching lunch or sneakily waiting, buried in the sand with just its eyes sticking out to look around..
The swim team – one of these swimmers is a tri-athlete, two go on international open-ocean swim tours and now all three are splashing in the warm tropical Belizean waters together. Water babies through and through!
Red and Yellow, and Green and Blue…..Special mention to Josey who took this photo from the far southern end of the resort. It’s not often you see a full rainbow like this. Thanks Josey!
What exquisite detail on this little critter, the Flamingo Tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum). This beautiful sea snail feeds on certain species of soft corals and sea fans and can be found all over the Caribbean. You can often see the trailing scar where the snail has been feeding, but this is not lethal to the coral and it does heal with time. The actual snail shell is bright white and is surrounded by a colorful mantle. This can be retracted when attacked, exposing the white color. They are very small, reaching only around 1.5” long when fully grown and their larvae are extremely small, drifting in the sea as plankton until they eventually fall somewhere to settle and grow. This species used to be very common, but now there are fewer, partly due to collection by humans mistaking the shell to be the colorful part of the animal. It is now, with good reason, illegal in most countries to bring back these shells from your vacation.
What did the octopus say to the conch? You taste sooo good! Engaged in an everyday battle on the reef here at Turneffe, the Caribbean Reef Octopus (Octopus Briareus) usually hunts at night but does sometimes hunts by day feeding on all kinds of shellfish including shrimp, crab and lobster. The conch is a real favorite and a big meal for this octopus we spotted on one of our recent dives. Being a super intelligent cephalopod, octopi remember things and are known to avoid places where they last encountered an enemy. They can disguise themselves as algae or even coconuts to avoid detection. A female octopus can lay up to an amazing 200,000 eggs but will not be around to see the minute versions of herself because she will die before the eggs hatch. She does, however, defend the eggs for the rest of her days attacking anything that goes near her nest! Total commitment from mom!
Dan and Traci came to dive with us recently and took a great shot together underwater. You can tell these two have done this once or twice before, as there are very few bubbles in the picture. Timing is everything to get the right shot. They took a number of top quality photos on this dive trip which we will show you over the next few weeks. Lookout for the solitary gorgonian hydroid photo as this one is a favorite of ours. Thanks guys and we do hope to see you again soon, especially for your photographs ;-)
Creature Feature: Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus narinari) are amazingly beautiful and majestic. They can grow to over nine feet wide and despite their size are usually shy of divers. This one decided to swim along with our divers and gave us a photo opportunity too good to miss. Swimming right below us, this eagle ray gave us a great view of her ‘fingerprint.’ Each eagle ray has a unique pattern on its back and no two are the same, just like our fingerprints. Eagle rays feed on shellfish, octopus, squid and even sea urchins with their flat plate-like, crushing teeth. Tucked away at the base of the tail are between two and six barbed venomous spines used for defense against sharks, especially the great hammerhead, and they can leap high out of the water as part of their escape plan. They have even been known to accidentally jump into boats surprising the people onboard! Due to overfishing, this species is on the IUCN Red List as “Near Threatened” and their numbers are declining.
Creature Feature: This is the Whitespotted Toadfish (Sanopus astrifer) which is endemic to Belize.
Often found peering out from under rocks, they feed on small fish, crustaceans and worms. They can grow in size up to 10 inches and open their mouth to expand to the width of their bodies allowing them to quickly engulf large prey.
Toadfish can make a loud grunting noise by contracting sonic muscles surrounding the swim bladder for communication. Both male and female produce broadband grunts but it is believed that only the males produce the long multi-note advertisement termed a “boatwhistle” to attract females to their nests. The boatwhistle helps in species recognition and act as a behavioral barrier to hybridization. Whitespotted call parameters are specific in duration and frequency but their call has sufficient variations to permit individual recognition and may indicate male quality for mate selection.
This species is listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable and considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
A special thanks to Traci Bash for finding this beautiful creature and to Dan Bash for immortalizing it.