Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#658: The Sea of Angels

People refer to "Lost" Angeles as the "city of angels," yet our waters don't contain a single angelfish! What's with that? I have to venture to exotic tropical destinations to bring back images of these beauties for your viewing (and reading) pleasure. It's a tough life, but someone has to do it... and I'm glad it's me! In today's column I thought I'd present a few of the elegant angels I encountered while diving in the Egyptian Red Sea. No, not the ladies, the fish!

Angelfish are almost always very colorful, making them a favorite of underwater photographers and videographers. However, all this "splendiferousness " is not simply for show. Students of ecology, and readers of my columns, undoubtedly remember that the tropics are regions of incredible species diversity compared to our somewhat duller temperate waters. When swimming with hundreds of other species, one often wants to stand out and be recognized if looking for a mate. Hmmm, perhaps I should heed that counsel and dress with a bit more pizzazz. Of course becoming more noticeable also has its downside... being more obvious to your potential munchers.

Another family of beachside beauties are the butterflyfish, and Catalina does have a representative of this colorful group. Many are confused about the difference between angelfish and butterflyfish. The former have a prominent spine near the operculum and swim with their pectoral fins like our local wrasses such as the sheephead and senorita. Like the wrasses, angelfish begin life as girls and usually look quite different from the older transformed males (the reverse of Bruce Jenner).

Those that change into males follow certain Egyptian customs and gather harems of two to eight females. I'm still trying to attract just one! Maybe I could learn something by studying these fish more closely. Reproduction generally occurs from spring to mid fall, and usually involves male courtship displays and nuzzling of the female. I have tried a few of those to no success. However, I prefer a year-round mating season... but without successful reproduction! The fertilized eggs hatch quickly and the larvae may drift several weeks in the currents so they can see the world before they settle down.

Food preferences are often dependent on the scientific genus a specific angelfish belongs to. Some prefer small, bottom dwelling invertebrates and algae; others feed on animal plankton in the open water above the reef; while still others munch away on sponges, soft bodied invertebrates and algae. I must admit that I prefer a nice juicy flank steak grilled to perfection on my barbie (she is hot)... or a seafood salad during our hot spells.

After I returned from Egypt, I used Debelius' Red Sea Reef Guide to ID the species I filmed. When I posted the images on Facebook, I did receive a comment from a friend there about one common name Debelius used. The author referred to one fish as the Arabian angelfish but apparently another popular field guide (Lieske and Myers Coral Reef Guide: Red Sea) used that common name for a completely different species (the crescent angelfish in Debelius) and called the one I filmed the yellowbar angelfish I've written before about the confusion that can be caused by common names. For example, the barramundi and crocodilefish I filmed in Palau this spring have a number of different common names, some dependent on the region they are seen in.

I have chosen to present images of the Arabian (or yellowbar) angelfish, the royal (or regal) angelfish and the emperor (or emperor... hurray, they agree on that one) angelfish in this column. The first is found from the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf to the Seychelles and feeds on sponges and algae. The second may be observed from the Red Sea to South Africa in the west and Tahiti in the east and feeds on sponges and tunicates. The emperor feeds on similar delectables and is known from from the Red Sea to south Africa and east to Tahiti and southern Japan.

Our waters have been unusually warm the past 18 months thanks to the Blob off southern California and Mexico. If the predicted El Niño hits and increases these temperatures, perhaps a few angelfish from south of the border like the Cortez and King angelfish will enter our waters. After all, we already have the finescale triggerfish, scythe butterflyfish, Guadalupe cardinalfish, white tail gregory and others from Mexico here. After all, the City of Angels deserves a few of these colorful species!

© 2015 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Arabian or yellowbar angelfish (top), regal or royal angelfish and the emperor (or emperor!) angelfish

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2015 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia