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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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