A few species of Blennies are also voracious and cunning predators, their comb-teeth modified with a set of impressive canine fangs

Eyespot Blenny (Ecsenius ops Blennies)

The Blennies too munch on small crustaceans and zooplankton, but also use their slender comb-like teeth to graze on coral polyps or algae. A few species of Blennies are also voracious and cunning predators, their comb-teeth modified with a set of impressive canine fangs. The genus Meiacanthus even possesses a venom gland that makes him doubly deadly! These fanged species take the prankster image to rather nasty extremes, being involved in deceptive games of aggressive mimicry with other fishes in order to obtain food. In this instance, the Blenny delights in causing identity confusion, taking his gripe with the Gobies out on a few innocent bystanders.

Amongst the mimicking species are those same smiley Sabre-tooths that I mentioned earlier. Obviously a guilt-free predator, this mimicking Blenny’s scapegoat is the small, striped cleaner wrasse, which only differs from the Blenny in general form by being a little lighter in tonation. The Blenny will dwell in close proximity to the wrasse to target the same pelagic trade. When seeking prey, he will imitate the wrasse’s smooth swimming strokes, then once within striking range of the larger fish, will once again become Blenny-like, darting towards the unsuspecting pelagic, tearing off pieces of fin, flesh or attacking eyes with his sharp canine teeth.

The Blenny is also ruthless enough to go for younger, more naive fishes when hunting, and presumably some will meet their fate at the hands of more ocean-wise adults. Fearlessly ferocious, the Sabre-Tooth has also been known to nip at the extremities of passing divers. Other Blenny mimicking antics include non-fanged species impersonating the cleanerfish to fool not the larger but the smaller prey; while others may impersonate the venomous or fanged species of their own family, to deflect the attention of larger predators.

If the Blenny’s attitudes are beginning to look less than altruistic, then we have to remember that we are all too often guilty of the very things which we are most offended by – and the Blenny’s mimic antics show him taking his Machiavellian nature to the extreme.

References and Photographic source:
1. Essential Guide to Coral Reef Life (2010) – Michael Aw
2. Ocean Geographic 14:4/2010

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