2001-03 Yellowface Pikeblenny Smackdown!

by Ned and Anna Deloach with Paul Humann

While lying flat, searching the sand for signs of life, my gaze locked on an unfamiliar movement off in the distance. Not daring to blink, I inhaled, rose and began fingerwalking toward what appeared to be a protruding algae stem at the edge of a manatee grass thicket. Within three feet, I slowed and inched forward until I spied the Daffy Duck profile of a Yellowface Pikeblenny staring back from the opening of an abandoned worm tube. I was so excited that I almost forgot to mark the spot with the painted rock I stow inside my BC pocket for just such occasions. Within minutes, I was back with my wife, Anna, in tow. A quick survey revealed more than 20 of the wispy little bug-eyed blennies residing in the area. What a find!

We soon learned that the best blenny watching occurred in mid- to late afternoon, when the lighter colored females went on the prowl. And when the gals were out, the guys went nuts flaunting over-sized dorsal fins, flushing black, and bobbing up and down inside the mouths of their tubes. If females ventured near, the more enthusiastic males sailed free from the bottom in high-flying arches.

Periods of intense courtship triggered war within the colony, as competitors battled for coveted shelter tubes located near the ladies. The fury of the first take-over attempt we witnessed caught us by surprise. While watching a large male display to a nearby female, an equal-sized male sailed across the sand in a direct line for the enthusiastic suitor, who, at the last instant, lunged from his hole to counter the collision. The fish, locked jaw-to-jaw, thrashed with such tenacity that it’s a wonder their slender bodies didn’t break. Within seconds the troublemaker retreated to a nearby shelter tube, where he sat panting. In a show of misplaced bravado, the hole owner unfurled his dorsal fin and danced in his rival’s face. In an attack faster than the eye, the belittled blenny streaked back across the bottom. Caught off-guard, the defender disappeared below ground. The intruder followed, powering his way deep inside the shelter tube with a wildly thrashing tail. Seconds later, the blennies popped free and slung each other about. It took a second retreat and a third failed assault before the challenger scampered away to try his luck elsewhere.