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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#718: Sweetlips

No, I haven't finally found the woman of my dreams... and I haven't been down at El Galleon listening to the oldies but goodies ("so place your sweet lips a little closer to the phone"). But I am looking back at images I took in the Philippines and Palau of a group of fish known as sweetlips. They are in the grunt family Haemulidae. Local members include the sargo (Anisotremus davidsonii) and salema (Xenistius californiensis).

Their name comes from the large, fleshy lips which all sweetlips species I've encountered exhibit. Describing them, even just a single species, can be difficult because their coloration and pattern changes as they age. In fact, the juveniles often appear radically different in appearance from the adults. Kind of like kids today who sport tats, piercings and radical hair colors. No thanks, at least for this old geezer!

Sweetlips generally stay close to shelter over coral reefs during the day, preferring nooks, crannies and overhangs. They may co-mingle with members of related species. At night they come out to feed on benthic (bottom-dwelling) invertebrates. Now I can understand them munching on shrimp and crab... but why would anything try eating a bristleworm?

Youngsters usually exhibit unusual swimming behavior. They wiggle around or undulate near the reef and are often quite noticeable. One would think that would draw the attention of a possible predator, but some sources suggest they may be imitating poisonous flatworms. As a well-trained and highly experienced marine biologist (cough), I wasn't fooled.

The species I've filmed include the Oriental, harlequin, striped and silver sweetlips. My first two are my favorites and I'll focus on them today.

The harlequin or many-dotted sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides) is distinguished by having a yellowish or white body with many dark brown spots. Youngsters start out with light colored blotches with dark borders on a brownish background. As these fish age, the number of spots increases and they turn from light colored to black. I think I've done the same as I aged.

The oriental sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus), also known as the Indian Ocean oriental sweetlips, is known from the Indian Ocean (duh!) and the western Pacific. I've also seen the species referred to scientifically as Plectorhinchus orientalis. Youngsters have a dark body with large, irregular white blotches often bordered in yellow, orange or red. Mature individuals have a whitish body coloration with horizontal black stripes. The lips and fins are yellow with the dorsal, anal and tail fins dotted in black.

As my regular readers (the ones who eat bran or take Metamucil) know, I was headed to the Maldives last May before discovering cancer in my appendix and colon two days before my flight. Once my treatments are complete and I can resume diving, I plan to head there and film several other species of sweetlips! Who knows, maybe I'll also find the woman of my dreams!

© 2017 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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The Oriental sweetlips and its youngster; the harlequin or many-spotted sweetlips and junior.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2017 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia