Back in the Ragged Islands, we had almost a week of decent weather to spend in the water before the next cold front.  I returned to the shallow patch reefs that I like to swim on to seek out familiar reef critters and was rewarded with a few new discoveries.  These areas tend to be nurseries for juvenile fish to hide from predators.  

The spotted sea hares were still there… with a rosy blenny posing in front for the camera.

The first baby fish I spotted were a couple of juvenile foureye butterfly fish, no bigger than my thumbnail and challenging to photograph.  These juveniles have an extra spot on their dorsal fin, giving them six eyes for a while until they've grown and the top spot fades away.

I also saw a juvenile rock beauty with a gorgeous orange-yellow coloring and purple highlights that was very hyper, making my job quite difficult.

Another juvenile was a lionfish about two inches long hiding under a ledge.  Their poisonous spines are already starting to look ominous even at this size.

I came across a mass of spaghetti-like tendrils that I thought might be a giant basket star… so I took several photos to identify it later.  The color was a light rose and the pile was about the size of my fist.  What I couldn’t see by eye was that these were tubes containing tons of eggs!  I have no idea what the source is and will have to do some detective work with better internet.  If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them.  (UPDATE:  these are spotted sea hare eggs, go figure!)

I’ve learned to appreciate these algal gardens as places where critters like hydroids and corallimorphs thrive.

Another amazing discovery was a Florida corallimorph undergoing fission for reproduction!!  

On the same coral head there was an open corallimorph, so my initial identification was supported by the same species nearby.  

It is clear that the two “mouths” next to each other is a fission event, but I’m not sure if the third one was also recently produced by fission and ready to pinch-off, since they appear to be in the same structure.

These gardens are always good places to find crabs, including the giant hermit crabs wearing massive conch shells.  

Some movement caught my eye over the sand and I found this one inch white hermit crab in a moon snail shell.  It was so well-camoflauged I had a difficult time finding it to dive again and take some photos.  It was a cute reticulated hermit crab with translucent legs and bristles on the patterned claws.

There were a few cool fish in the area that were nice to encounter… 

...the spotted trunkfish (skeptical)

…the white-spotted filefish (shy)

…the honeycomb cowfish (running scared)

…the butter hamlet (pretty

…and glassy sweepers (skittish)

Both the spotted and banded coral cleaner shrimp were not shy and I think I could’ve gotten a manicure from them if I could hold my breath longer!

© M&M 2016