It’s April and as the water temperatures are slowly creeping up to the mid-70s, the creatures underwater are getting frisky!
I get the pleasure of spending at least 3 days a week underwater at the Blue Heron Bridge (BHB) dive site, which is roughly 6-9 hours a week underwater just at this one dive site! Because this site is located in the intracoastal zone near the Palm Beach Inlet, it is under the dramatic push and pull of the high and low tides creating a very dynamic environment. I have seen brown and green algal growths that show up almost immediately and quickly disappear, lasting only a few months. I have seen beautiful orange sponges grow to over 12 inches, only to get washed away quickly with a strong outgoing tide. Even with the environment changing so drastically in such short amounts of time, so many unique creatures thrive there, and most importantly this time of year, find mates and reproduce.
Right now, many incredibly obscure creatures are showing their faces at BHB, in hopes to create the next generation of obscure, incredible creatures. That is correct, April is a very important month for several species below, and above, water… It’s mating season! Love is in the air, I mean water, and at BHB we get to see species that only show up this time of year in search of a mate. Mating season also reveals behaviors in adults only seen this time of year, and don’t forget juveniles! (Who doesn’t love a tinier, even more adorable version of these cute creatures?)
Many divers have seen the Banded Jawfish (Opistognathus macrognathus)all year round, carefully cleaning and rearranging their shell-door mats. During mating season, you may find the interesting behavior of male-mouth brooding.
When it is their time to mate, and they have selected wisely, the males actually carry the fertilized eggs in their mouths! This is one of nature’s ultimate forms of protecting and caring for young. If you are lucky, you may even see the males gently, but rapidly spit the eggs in and out of their mouths to clean the eggs.
One creature, only comes from April to late summer, shows up to BHB each year to eat and mate, eat and mate. This is the Striated Frogfish (Antennarius striatus) and is a very obscure creature indeed. They apparently rely on camouflage, which they wear so well, as they sit in one spot for a very long time. They only seem to move a few feet away when they feel it necessary, either to feed or in search of their mate.
The most obscure creature, I believe, to show up for love in April, is the Ragged Seahare (Bursatella leachii).
Seahares are closely related to sea slugs and nudibranchs, however being some of the largest members of their family. They get their name from a pair of appendages on their heads called rhinophores, which resemble rabbit or hare ears. Seahares are actually hermaphroditic and can mate in piles of other Seahares of the same species! So, you may see them alone, in pairs, or in large clusters of individuals…a tangled mass of hairs (pun intended), leaving only fertilized eggs behind.
What I find to be a very interesting fact about the Seahare, is that they have a simple eye, meaning they can only detect light from dark and yet they can still locate others to mate and carry on the gene pool.
They say April Showers bring May Flowers… I’m excited to see what will sprout in May from all of our underwater April Lovers!