Friday, March 15, 2013

Creature Feature: Scooter Blenny.

Much to one's surprise, Petco can be a learning experience. Most of their exotics are beginner-friendly and can hardly be considered exotic to people who really know the trade. Every now and again, though, they'll have something that is not beginner-level and probably should not be in the hands of the next kid who thinks it looks awesome.

This is a clear exception to the "beginners" rule. It was labeled as a "scooter blenny," but the more proper name is ocellated dragonet (Synchiropus ocellatus). It is native to the southern waters around Japan and an island chain called the Marquesan Islands- good luck finding that obscure chain of Pacific islands on a globe. We had not even heard of them until covering this little fish. It feeds mostly on copepods - a sort of zooplankton.

Names can be very deceiving. This is not a blenny; it is an entirely different type of fish called a dragonet. Dragonets are all minor predatory fish with flashy fins and a taste for small sea life. They generally prefer the bottom of the reef or tank, and the scooter/ocellated dragonet is no exception. After seeing one of these in action, it appears to be walking on the bottom of the tank (thus "scooter"). Not as awesome as a batfish, but still pretty neat.

Source. Gorgeous.

As one might expect of such a flashy fish, the ocellated dragonet exhibits sexual dimorphism. The males have larger dorsal fins with a patch of bright orange at the base. The word "ocellated" refers to the eyespots on the fin up there. The females are much less colorful, blending right in with the gravel in the aquarium. Still a treat to watch "walk," in any case.

Contrary to their presence at Petco, dragonets of any sort are not beginner's fish. As one might imagine, live copepods are hard to come by, and these guys are picky eaters. Most draconets die shortly after purchase because they won't eat. They also live longer in established reef settings. Read: You must already be able to handle a saltwater tank, which in itself is not as easy as it sounds. To be fair, Petco has several other saltwater things, so if it's a tank you're after? Do your own homework before going there, then start away.

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