The misundestood Fangtooth Moray

 

 

One could claim that Fangtooth Moray (scientific name: “Enchelycore anatina”) is among the most terrifying looking marine animals in the Mediterranean . That is probably due to its elongated jaws and especially the teeth, which have a crystal, glasslike appearance and are visible through the curved jaws even when the mouth is closed. The black and yellow stripes and dots on its body add to the impression and is also known as Tiger Moray – although its basic color pattern mostly resembles a leopard!

Morays are infamous for having strong jaws and powerful bite. However, this fella attacks only when feeling threatened, so unless divers put hands in cavities in or between the rocks while exploring the bottom, they are safe. Generally, it does not behave aggressive at all (and definitely not to u/w photographers!).

Fangtooth Moray is a migrant species into the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean , and here found a supplementary role to the more common Moray Eel in the ecosystem. Most people cannot even distinguish it is a different species. It is a solitary creature and usually spends the day between the rocks of the bottom while hunting mostly at night. It feeds on small fish, crustaceans, cephalopods (especially favors octopus!), and dead animals.

As not a significant commercial species, Fangtooth Moray is not targeted or threatened by overfishing. However, it is a usual by-catch to long fishing lines, nets and trawlers. It also suffers to the loss of habitant, the decrease in populations of species that is preying on and also to general deterioration of u/w environment. Fangtooth Moray is not abundant and is not studied enough but as predator is playing a key role in the fragile marine ecosystem. Not many, not even most divers are aware of its presence in the Mediterranean. Raising awareness for this colorful creature may grant it an opportunity to stay safe in Mediterranean Sea for the future.

 

Triton’s Trumpet, the iconic sea snail

Triton’s Trumpet, also know as Giant Triton or “Bourou” in Greek, (scientific name: “Charonia tritonis”), is a mollusk gastropod, a sea shell, practically a snail of impressive size. It is the biggest and most known sea snail of the Mediterranean. Different species of this genus are found in temperate and tropical climatic zones all over the world, while the size of larger ones can reach or even exceed half a meter in length. It is usually in the shade of the rocks or in holes where it passes the day waiting for the arrival of darkness, when it is time for most fish to go for rest and for night predators to prey.
The seemingly harmless Triton is a carnivorous animal, a predator of the bottom, who feeds on other mollusks and starfish. Something that one wouldn’t expect from such a creature is that when Triton detects the smell of the prey, starts chasing it. Although the pursuit is far from a cinematic version of dizzying speed, it is just enough to be quicker than your prey, and Triton does!
Triton apparently has a particular preference on starfish and after catching them, opens a hole in their hard skin with a radula tooth (imagine a can opener), and then injects its nerve paralysing saliva. Despite eating poisonous thorns or other unwanted parts of the prey, Triton manages to spit these out. Triton is a very important predator for marine ecosystems as regulates the population of starfish and echinoderms that otherwise would devastate corals and u/w flora.

Someone somewhere once tried to blow through a small hole that could have been created when the edge of the Triton’s shell broke, (and could that led to the invention or inspiration for the construction of a trumpet music instrument?). The Triton has been used since antiquity to create this distinct sound,  especially by sailors, giving the shell its Greek name. The god Poseidon, but especially its son Triton – the messenger of the sea in Greek mythology, are often depicted holding such a shell and ruled the waves with it. This obviously inspired the English common name “Triton’s trumpet”.

Nowadays, Tritons are at risk due to lost of habitat, depletion of then ecosystem and quite often becoming a by-catch or picked for their shell, although is endangered and protected.

“The shadow of the seas”

“The shadow of the seas”

This is  “Sikios” or “Pantelis” in Greek, the Brown Meagre (or Corb- scientific name: “Sciaena umbra”). This species spreads in the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the East Atlantic. It is usually found in rocky and sandy sea bottoms with seagrass  meadows (in fact, the iconic”Posidonia oceanica” seagrass which is not an algae but a plant) in depths from 5 to 200 meters and is preying on small fish and crustaceans (crabs, shrimp etc.). A good-looking phantom!

Sikios is an amazingly beautiful fish of the Mediterranean, with golden and silver flashes in its body and impressively bright dorsal and caudal fins – yellow with black edges and white details, while its movement is full of grace. It is mainly nocturnal fish that can be seen during the day although it prefers to remain in the holes of the rocks.

The second composer of its Latin name  “umbra” means “shadow,” and is inspired by his ability to remain invisible- partly due to the colors of his body, and partly to the perfect buoyancy he can achieve by staying motionless in shadows in the depth of the cavities where is hiding.  The fish of this species (croakers) have two bone “hammers” in their head (called “otolithi”) with which they create sounds to communicate, especially as they are very sociable and live in small groups.  If keep quite silent and can approach such a “shadow”, a diver can distinguish the special sounds, as long as he is not to late for the show!

Fan Mussel and its hidden Guardian

Fan Mussel and its hidden Guardian!

Commonly known as Fan Mussel or “Pinna” in Greek (scientific name: “Pinna nobilis”), this is a large shellfish that looks like a big mussel but it has a more impressive and fragile shell that can reach 1 meter in length. This species is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, and is usually located on sandy seabed in seagrass meadows (in fact “Posidonia oceanica” is rather a plant rather than an alga), down to maximum depth of 60 meters below the surface. It feeds on plankton by filtering the water around it.

Unexpected Surprise

If one is careful enough and approaches the open shell without being perceived, can sometimes spot a small shrimp (3-7 cm) (“Pontonia pinnophylax”) living inside the Pinna. This is a mutually beneficial cohabitation: as long as Pinna offers shelter, the small tenant warns her of possible dangers by stinging and the shell closes hermetically! The role of the small shrimp is also evident in its scientific name “pinnophylax”, which is interpreted as the “Guardian of Pinna”. Sometimes the tenant is not welcome, but a parasitic organism, called the Pea Crab due to his size, and its scientific name is interpreted as “Pinna hunter” (“Pinnotheres pisum”)!

Silk from the Sea

Pinna was a valuable raw material for the textile industry. Traditionally, some coastal populations, mainly in Sicily and Southern Italy, produced a cloth off the muscle fibers that this shell uses to anchor to the bottom substrate. The fabric is known as “marine silk”.

Threats and Protection Status

This humble but special species of our seas is threatened by overfishing, bottom trawling and anchoring that disturb and deplete the benthic habitat, as well as from chemical and biological contamination. Pinna is protected by the “Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC”, which includes this species of EU interest among those that require strict protection. Removing or fishing Pinna is strictly forbidden!

The images come from dives in the waters of the Ionian Sea and more specifically around Kefalonia and Ithaca Islands. They depict species that inhabit and enrich our seas, the very same that host inhabitants and visitors of our islands alike, in the winter or summertime. The hidden wealth of the sea is its own amazing biodiversity. And it is hidden not because it has not been discovered but because it remains unknown to most, so that in general it is considered a vast area empty of any interest, as well as the place for rejecting our waste. The sea is a cradle for life, a nursery for man and a lung for the planet. And in order to protect it we have to know it first.

Tilemachos Beriatos

CMAS 3* diver

 

 

 

A crab’s night out