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Discussion in 'Marine Life and Ecosystems' started by drbill, Jan 6, 2019.

  1. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA

    A while ago I had dinner with Rosie Cadman, former owner of the Fish and Chips stand on Avalon's Pleasure Pier. It was quite a treat as she prepared sand dabs, a favorite of mine. And unlike the Blue Water Grille, she doesn't saturate them in sauce and capers.You get to taste the delicate flavor of the fish itself.

    Years ago back in Chicago my Mom had to go take care of my grandmother. Dad asked me as we drove back from O'Hare International "what will we eat?" Now he was great with a barbecue but this was winter in Chicago! I drove into Evanston where high school friends had opened Burhop's Seafood and got some sand dabs imported from the West Coast. Dad was not a big fish eater, but he liked those!

    Dinner at Rosie's got me thinking of flatfish. I have seen many species throughout the world including halibut, C-O sole and sanddabs here at home. My mind drifted back to when I dove the Dutch A-B-C islands in the Caribbean, specifically Bonaire. There I had an encounter with two peacock flounder (Bothus lunatus) who appeared to be courting. Ah, munching (me) and mating (them) in one swell foop.

    Bothus lunatus is the Atlantic version of the peacock flounder while another, related species also known as the peacock flounder or plate fish (Bothus mancus) is found in the Indo-Pacific.For these relatives to visit one another would be one heck of a swim. Both these species are in the left-eyed flounder family, meaning that when one eye migrated to the other side of the head, it was to the left side. However, in some individuals the eyes may migrate to the right side. I don't believe this entails different political beliefs though.

    This peacock flounder is found in tropical and subtropical regions of the Atlantic and Caribbean from Florida south to Brazil at depths down to about 240 feet although they are more common down to about 70 feet. It prefers sandy habitats near coral reefs. They may also be found near mangroves, in seagrass beds and over coral rubble.

    They reach lengths of 14-18 inches and the two I filmed in Bonaire were at the upper end of this range. The pectoral fin on the upper side is long and often stands upright. Their body color may be grey to brown to tan with small blue spots and circular markings. These flatfish can camouflage well against the substrate and are able to change color in less than 10 seconds. I've seen humans get red in the face even quicker than that.

    As I mentioned, the two I filmed appeared to be in courtship mode... or at least the male was! He was chasing the lovely lady all along the coral reef and sandy flats. Males establish territories and defend them vigorously. They form "harems" and mate with the ladies in their space, and also prevent other males from mating with them. The male and female approach one another, often with their pectoral fins erect. They arch their backs and touch mouths (hmmm... perhaps as a form of foreplay?).

    The female then swims away and the male will often follow her which is what I observed. The male in this case swam up on a rocky outcropping and then dove down to the lovely lady. If she is receptive, the male will slide under her, then the two rise up in the water column together to about six feet. Sperm and eggs are then released and they return to the bottom. It was reported that the two separate quickly. However the pair I saw seemed to hang reasonably close to one another.

    The peacock flounder spawns over a fairly broad time span. Fertilized eggs develop into larvae that swim with the plankton. The eyes are on both sides of the body but the right one eventually migrates to the other side before they settle out. The larvae have a small swim bladder which is lost when they metamorphose into juveniles on the ocean floor. Pigment cells are also present on both sides in the larval stage but disappear on the "right" side.

    The vast majority of its diet is other fish. They are ambush predators that rest on the bottom and attack when potential prey comes near. Their eyes are mounted on short stalks that give them a wide range of vision. They may also rest buried in the sand before striking prey. Other tasty morsels include mantis shrimp and octopuses. Predators differ at different stages of their lives, but as adults they may be munched on by predatory fish, moray eels, sharks and rays, birds and marine mammals. Humans generally do not target this species when fishing.

    I was surprised to find that they don't seem to be on human menus. One would think that a flatfish much larger than most sand dabs would make a delicious meal! Of course Rosie would need a larger frying pan to prepare them, but my stomach would be large enough to ingest them!

    © 2019 Dr. Bill Bushing. For the entire archived set of nearly 800 "Dive Dry" columns, visit my website Star Thrower Educational Multimedia (S.T.E.M.) Home Page

    Image caption: Peacock flounders in Bonaire and male diving down to his waiting lady.

    DDDB 794 peacock flounder sm.jpg
  2. WeRtheOcean

    WeRtheOcean Angel Fish

    I remember once in Puget Sound, a starry flounder was lingering at the surface at night. It seemed an odd behavior, since it would have been unable to see a predator coming up from below.
  3. aquacat8

    aquacat8 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Savannah, GA
    Great writing and pics, thx!

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