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Sea of Cortez 810

Family Blenniidae
Combtooth Blennies
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Order: Perciformes

Key Features:
Mainly small bottom dwellers.  Most are smaller than 15 cm, although some species may reach greater than 50 cm.  Blunt heads with supraorbital cirri.  Teeth are comb-like and used for scraping algae and capturing small benthic invertebrates. Scaleless body with pelvic fins in most species and an extended soft dorsal fin.         

Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez

Hypsoblennius gentilis
Bay Blenny
Hypsoblennius jenkinsi
Mussel Blenny
Hypsoblennius brevipinnis
Barnaclebill Blenny
Ophioblennius steindachneri
Panamic Fanged Blenny
Plagiotremus azaleus
Sabretooth Blenny

Ophioblennius steindachneri, photographed scuba diving at Isla San Pedro Nolasco, Guaymas, Sonora Mexico

Ophioblennius steindachneri
Panamic Fanged Blenny

Isla San Pedro Nolasco, San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico

Family Blenniidae
Combtooth Blennies (Trambollitos)

A diverse and often playful group of fishes, the combtooth blennies, are widely distributed both throughout the Gulf and around the world.  Currently fifty three genera and three hundred and forty five species are recognized.  Of these, four genera and six species are found in the Gulf.  As a group, strongly sloped foreheads, prominent cirri over their large eyes, and a sub terminal mouth with a broad upper lip, may identify combtooth blennies.  They are generally found in shallow water habitats, existing as grazers of algae, and are occasional predators of small invertebrates. 

Most combtooth blennies are strongly territorial and will vigorously defend their territory against interlopers, regardless of size. Scuba divers not realizing that they have put their fingers near the domain of this tough little fishes will find their knuckles being nipped repeatedly. 

In the northern Sea of Cortez the bay blenny, Hypsoblennius gentilis, is the commonest combtooth blenny.  A frequent resident of the intertidal communities of Puerto Penasco, this blenny is a curious grazer that is also characteristically territorial. When faced by an intruder these blennies have been seen stomping back and forth on their pectoral fins in a show of might.  During mating behavior males will show off to the females by shaking their body and rapidly jerking their heads.  As the mating dance progresses the male will become more affectionate, rubbing the female with his pectoral fins and fanning her with his caudal fin.  Female mate selection seems to be based both in part on the males dancing abilities as well as the quality of his den which she inspects thoroughly before mating may commence. 

Scuba divers and snorkelers in the central and southern Gulf will often encounter the Panamic fanged blenny, Ophioblennius steindachneri.  It is a large blenny growing to a length of up to seven inches.  It derives its name from a pair of large canine teeth on the rear of its lower jaw. Along the upper jaw it possesses rows of small caniform teeth used for scraping algae off of the rocks and boulders in the shallow surge zone that it prefers.  It is a relatively fearless blenny and will often be found in large numbers at depths shallower than fifteen to twenty feet, along the bays of offshore islands such as Isla San Pedro Nolasco, near San Carlos, Sonora, and extending to the Cape region including La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.  These will be found inhabiting nearly any available nook and cranny, but prefer a territory with at least two to three feet of separation between each individual. 

Plagiotremus azaleus photographed scuba diving Baja Californis, Sea of Cortez, MexicoThe sabertooth blenny, Plagiotremus azaleus, occupies a unique niche in reef ecosystems.  It feeds on the skin and mucus of other fishes and will dart out of the mollusk tubes in which it resides to take a nip out of the sides of passing fishes.  Even more interestingly, it superficially resembles rainbow wrasses, a cleaning wrasse found throughout the Gulf.  During the daytime it will often join the loose aggregations of these wrasses, moving in to nip off bits of the fishes that have approached to be cleaned.  They will also dart out of these aggregations to nip at passing fishes and then dart back into the center of the school to avoid retaliation or predation.  Scuba divers and snorkelers not wearing wetsuits in the territory of these fishes may find their arms and legs being nipped and hairs plucked out of their skin. 



Updated August 28, 2009

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