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Here at Ferrebeekeeper we continue to marvel over the images from the James Webb telescope (the first such image was the subject of Monday’s post). As an ongoing homage to the new telescope (and to the team of scientists, engineers, and experts who made humankind’s marvelous super eye in space a reality) here is a short pictorial post…about a completely unrelated Caribbean filefish!

This is Cantherhines macrocerus, the American whitespotted filefish, an omnivorous filefish which lives along the southern coast of Florida and southwards through the shallow tropical waters of the Caribbean. The fish makes its living by eating algae and reef/coastal invertebrates like worms, small mollusks, sponges, soft corals, gorgonians, etc. The adult fish grows to a size of 45 centimeters (about 18 inches).

Perhaps you are wondering how this fish is related to the space telescope. Well, like many fish, the whitespotted filefish can–to a degree–alter its color depending on its mood or background. The fish’s dark coloration scheme pays homage to deep field images of the universe filled with galaxies

Obviously this is one of those aesthetic-themed posts which deals with delightful and fantastic (albeit superficial) similarities of appearance. It is the only way I know how to express my delight with cosmology and ichthyology! Indeed, even when this fish is not white-spotted (there is a yellow and olive variation) it still reminds me of the Webb scope..

Of course Ferrebeekeeper has a long track-record of seeing the forms of the universe within the patterns of fish. Humankind looks for patterns–and sometimes finds similar patterns in unrelated forms. Although maybe this particular similarity is not just an artistic conceit: humans and all vertebrate life descend from fish…and all-living things are made of atoms built in long-dead stars. The highest purpose of our new space telescope is to find out about the possibilities of life out there in the universe (since Webb can possibly peak into the atmospheres of exoplanets to let us know about any whiff of molecules associated with life). While we are looking millions of light years away we also need to keep looking at where we are. For the present, home is still the only place we know for sure to have abundant lifeforms (like, for example, the whitespotted filefish). Imagine if we found a water-dwelling, pincer-nosed alien which devoured fractal lifeforms and had a picture of deep space on its lozenge-form body. We would go crazy with delight. But we already have such a thing swimming around Turks and Caicas hoovering up gorgonians and looking cute.

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Although the year 2022 is actually already well underway (and let us devoutly hope that it will prove better than its last few predecessors), I still want to wish you a happy new year with a non-threatening article about a colorful and endearing subject. Pursuant to this matter, here is Meuschenia hippocrepis (aka the horseshoe leatherjacket), a gleaming filefish of the eastern Indian Ocean. The horseshoe leatherjacket lives in the temperate waters off the western (and southwestern) coast of Australia. It grows up to half meter (20 inches) in length and prefers to live around rocky reefs. Like other filefishes, the brightly colored leatherjacket makes its living by nipping up small invertebrates of all sorts. I wish I could find an astonishing legend about the glowing golden horseshoe on its side, but, so far I have discovered nothing, Let’s hope it gives us all some much-needed new year’s luck though!

It has been far too long since we posted a spectacular tetraodontiform fish (my favorite order!). Therefore, as a special Monday treat, let us bask in the prickly protrusions of Chaetodermis penicilligerus, AKA the prickly leather-jacket. This filefish lives in a wide swath of tropical ocean from the east coast of Africa all the way to the islands of the Central Pacific. The prickly leather jacket grows up to 31 cm (1 foot) in length and eats all manner of small marine algae and tiny invertebrates.

The body of this fish acts as a sort of marine ghillie suit–obscuring the contours of the fish to hide it from predators and prey alike. The more famous leafy sea dragon has a similar modus operandi, but as a seahorse it lacks the filefish’s indomitable spirit (which you can maybe glimpse even in these digital images if you look into its angry, prickly eyes).

A Filefish in Lembeh

This week is World Ocean’s Week and I feel like I have somewhat dropped the ball this year (although the plight of the planetary oceans is the principal ongoing theme of my artwork).  At any rate, for tonight’s post, I am not going to write a comprehensive essay about the watery realms which make up the majority of our planet’s surface (although we will get back to that theme).  Instead of a complex analysis of how we could help the oceans, here is a cameo appearance by another amazing Tetraodontiforme fish.

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This is Aluterus scriptus, commonly known as the scrawled filefish, a master generalist of warm tropical oceans worldwide.  The scrawled filefish lives in the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean.  Its habitats are limited to warm seas, but within those seas it does not have a particular favorite niche: the scrawled filefish can be found swimming through coral reefs, seaweed forests, seamounts, rock fields, shipwrecks, sandy seabeds, or just out in the open water.  From close up the fish looks like crazy 1980s abstract art with a wild pattern of olive dabs, aqua crazy stripes  and black stipples.  Yet seen from a distance it blends into the water or the seafloor with shocking success.  The scrawled filefish makes use of some of the same impressionistic properties of light, color, and shape which are used in dazzle camouflage.  It is hard to find the edges of its oval (partly transparent) body because of the chaos of its patterns.  Also, like flounders and cephalopods, the filefish is capable of quickly altering its color patterns such that certain colors fade back or flare into prominence depending on the situation.

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The scrawled filefish is also omnivorous and eats all sorts of algae, small invertebrates, corals, mollusks, worms, jellyfish, tunicates, small fish, et cetera et cetera.   The fish is diurnal and makes prime use of its yellow eye to see the world, however it is also shy and solitary.  Although they are generally spotted alone, filefish are attentive parents.  A male will fertilize the eggs of 2 to 5 females who live in his territory.  The parents look after the eggs and then watch other the fry when they hatch.

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In addition to camouflage, filefish make use of the same trick as their near relatives the triggerfish: they have locking spines at the top and bottom of their body.  If attacked, they wedge themselves into tight crevices or holes and lock these spines in place.  this is also how they sleep secure at night in an ocean filled with hungry predators.

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Blackhead Leatherjacket, (Pervagor melanocephalus) Photo by Doug Hoese

Blackhead Leatherjacket, (Pervagor melanocephalus) Photo by Doug Hoese

Filefish (Monacanthidae) are members of the order Tetraodontiformes, a group of fish which also includes sunfish, triggerfish, boxfish, and pufferfish.   I am immensely fond of these sorts of fish because of their personality and appearance.  Today we are going to look at a genus of filefish, the Pervagor, which are remarkable for their beautiful colors.  Pervagor filefish are native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, where they live in shallow coastal waters and reefs.  Like other filefish they feed on small invertebrates and other little animals which they catch.  They evade predators with somewhat armor-like skeletons and with a pop-up spike on the top of their body (which they can use to wedge themselves into crevices—or simply to prevent being easily swallowed. I am writing about them not because of their remarkable lives (indeed I fave found it hard to find out many details about them) but because of their beautiful appearance.  Each species is like a little piece of jewelry or a brilliant abstract painting.  They are exactly what we need to get through the start of this week!

Blackbar Filefish (Pervagor juanthinosoma) Carol A. S. MacDonald

Blackbar Filefish (Pervagor juanthinosoma) Carol A. S. MacDonald

Pervagor melanocephalus from aquariumhome.ru

Pervagor melanocephalus from aquariumhome.ru

Pervagor janthinosoma (by Hiroshi Senoh for the National Museum of Nature and Science, Kanagawa Prefectual Museum of Natural History)

Pervagor janthinosoma (by Hiroshi Senoh for the National Museum of Nature and Science, Kanagawa Prefectual Museum of Natural History)

Pervagor aspricaudus

Pervagor aspricaudus

Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) | by RCG Maru

Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) | by RCG Maru

Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) by Scott Retig

Immature Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) by Scott Retig

Just look at ’em!  Evolution is such a mad artist that one is never disappointed by its never-ending improvisations, its dazzling palette, and obsessive use of form!

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