Fish of the Coral Reef

The Blue-headed Wrasse is a fascinating fish.  These fish start their lives out as small, yellow, female fish.  As they grow, they assemble in schools of several females and one male (pictured).  The school is called a harem (sorry) and the male defends the school and its territory against any intruders, including divers.  The male mates with the females in the harem.  Eventually, the male takes on something a bit too big and gets himself killed.  The largest of the females, no longer seeing the male, undergoes a swift hormonal change.  She puts on a growth spurt, her ovaries turn into testes, and she develops the characteristic blue head and black and white stripes of the male.  Now a male he (she) takes over the harem. This phenomenon is called sequential hermaphroditism.

The French Angelfish is a grazer on the reef. It's nipper-like jaws enable it to deftly remove algae from the reef.  The juvenile looks much different and is pictured below:

The Spotted Eagle Ray is common in tropical waters; I have seen them in Florida, Jamaica, and off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.  The "wingspan" pf the pectoral fins is about 6 feet (2m).

The Flying Gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans)doesn't actually fly, but glides over the bottom with its large pectoral fins outstretched.

The Gray Angelfish is a close relative of the French Angelfish.

These small fish were among the rocks at Manuel Antonio, on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

Parrotfish bite off chunks of coral with their heavy jaws.  They expel the sand and digest whatever organic material was present.  They sleep in a protected area of the reef surrounded by a mucous sheet that they secrete.

The Peacock Flounder lies on its side.  Either on the surface with its mottled skin or hidden beneath a layer of sand, it is quite difficult to spot.

The Queen Angelfish, monarch of the reef.  Another relative of the French and Gray Angelfish, but much more colorful.

From the Indo-Pacific region (Courtesy of the Cleveland Aquarium) comes the Lionfish, known for its long venomous spines.

Many sharks call the reef home at least part of the time.  This Sand Shark is one of them, although it was actually seen swimming at the Shark Encounter at Sea World.  Dirk Westfall, Senior Aquarist at Sea World and MC graduate (1995) was gracious enough to arrange for a swim with the sharks.

A Spotted Moray Eel.  Moray eels in general are common reef inhabitants; their unique body forms enable them to get into cracks and crevices in the reef.  Safe from predation themselves, they can wait in safety to prey on other animals.  This photo is of a captive specimen. 

Clownfish are all from the Indo-Pacific region.  They work their way into an anemone gradually; allowing the anemone to get used to the fish and not trigger the anemone's stinging response.  These are captive individuals.

The Trumpetfish is a relative of the seahorse.  It sucks its food in through its long slender mouth.

The Yellowtail Snapper is a common reef fish.  The black stripes on the head both hide the eyes and serve to disorient predators attaching schools of this gregarious fish.

A sad note:  Many of the pictures above were either taken in the Florida Keys or at aquariums.  Large fish were rare on the reef in Jamaica; on the bottom we saw a number of fish traps.  In fact, if you look in the background of this picture, you will see a fisherman returning from the reef with a fish trap perched on his small boat:

The Jamaican fishermen we spoke with knew that they were overfishing, but it was the only livelihood they could find.  Even in a tourist-based economy such as Jamaica's, not everyone can guide tourist divers like Clive and Nally.  Other dangers to the coral reefs are highlighted in the mangrove swamps section.

Proceed to Coral Reefs Proceed to Mangrove Swamps
Proceed to Coral Reef Fish Proceed to Sandy Shores
Proceed to Coral Reef Invertebrates Proceed to Rocky Shores