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Damselfish

An anemone fish peers out from the protection of its anemone. Damselfish (family Pomacentridae) create bright ovals of energetic color on the reefs.  They are very common and so plentiful that the reef seems to be alive with darting, turning, hiding, often curious small colorful ovals.  There are over 240 species of damselfish in the Indo-Pacific.  They all have a continuous dorsal fin and a forked or lunate tail.  They are all egg layers.  Either the male or female makes a nest on the bottom where they engage in courtship displays of rapid swimming and fin extension.  They feed on algae or plankton.  Included in this family are damselfish, sergeants, chromis, Dascyllus, and demoiselles.  Photos copyrighted Hackingfamily.com, with credits to Christopher Hacking unless otherwise noted.

Brightly colored Anemonefish (yes, related to Nemo, the clownfish!) live co-existent lives with about 10 species of host anemone.  While it seems clear that the anemone, with its stinging tentacles, offers protection to the fish, it is not so clear what the fish offers the anemone.  Perhaps nothing, as anemones without fish are commonly seen, but the anemonefish are never seen far away from the protection of an anemone.  Anemonefishes live in small groups with a dominant female and a smaller, sexually active male, and several even smaller males and juveniles.  When the dominant female dies, the largest male changes sex to become the head of the harem.

We believe this species in the photo on the right is Amphiprion bicentrus, in Tahitian Atoti.  It baffled us for a long time because it's not in any of our ID books.  We finally saw a picture in a museum in Tahiti which showed the Atoti with its all-orange body with two white/blue bars, the rear one thinner. (Moorea)

A Pink Anemonefish peeks out from its bulb anemone Pink Anemonefish Amphiprion perideraion looks hauntingly pitchfork-esque from the front, and appears more orange than pink amongst the purple-tipped Magnificent Anemone.  The Pink Anemonefish lives in 4 different anemones but prefers the Magnificent.  It's found from Indonesia across to E. Micronesia, and from Japan south to the Great Barrier Reef. (New Caledonia)
Clown Anemonefish have varying amounts of black
Clown Anemonefish have varying amounts of black
At left:  Hello Nemo!  The Clown Anemonefish Amphiprion percula  (left) is found in the western Pacific Ocean from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to PNG and Eastern Indonesia. They live with any of 3 different anemone species to 47' (15m) deep. The False Clownfish Amphiprion ocellaris may overlap in territory with the Clown anemonefish, (found from the Andaman Sea to Central Indonesia and the Philippines) and those found in eastern Indonesia may be either one. (Raja Ampat by Sue Hacking)

At right, a Clark's Anemonefish Amphiprion clarkii, hovers a few inches from its protective anemone. Clark's anemonefish can vary in coloration from this specimen with black body and 2 white bars to entirely orange with 2 white bars. A characteristic is that the second bar is always wide.  They can live with 10 different anemones and can be found as deep as 150ft (55m).  They are found from East Africa to Fiji and north to Japan.  (Raja Ampat. Photo by Sue Hacking)

 

An adult Red and Black anemonefish in New Caledonia The adult Red And Black Anemonefish Amphiprion melanopus (left) is found from Indonesia across the Pacific to French Polynesia. Strangely, the adults in Tonga and Fiji vary from other adults by having no black on the back. The young (right) have 2 to 3 white (or pale blue/white) bars. They live with any of 3 different anemone species to 30' (10m) deep. (Adult: New Caledonia. Juvenile: Tonga) Red-Black Anemone Fish Juvenile

 


 
At left: A family of Orange Anemonefish Amphiprion sandaracinos (left) peer out from the protective tentacles of a Merten's Anemone, the one anemone species that they prefer.  The similar looking Skunk Anemonefish  Amphiprion  akallopisos is found from East Africa to Bali, Indonesia. Given that the fish at left were photographed in Eastern Indonesia we can be pretty sure they are Orange Anemonefish, not the Skunk Anemonefish.  (Triton Bay by Sue Hacking)

At right, a Spinecheek Anemonefish Premnas biaculeatus, guards her family in the protective arms of a bulb-tentacle anemone. Females rule the family, and are always much larger than even the highest ranking male who will be a brighter orange, rather than the dark color of the large female.  When she dies, the next male in line changes to a female, darkens and grows. The spine on the cheek is a quite visible on this fish.  They are found as deep as 59ft (18m).  They are found Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea, and south to the Great Barrier Reef.  (Eastern Borneo. Photo by Sue Hacking)

 


The stunning Javanese Damsel juvenile Neoglyphidodon oxyodon eluded us for many years, until we snorkeled near a natural fish nursery in Raja Ampat and saw literally dozens and dozens of these magnificent juveniles.  The adults have probably swum infront of us for years, but without getting any attention, as they are pretty uniformly black, with maybe a very dark gray area above the pectoral fins. (Raja Ampat.  Photo by Sue Hacking)
 

Pacific Half & Half Chromis floats over some LeatherCoral

A very abundant fish on the reefs of Tonga was the unmistakable Pacific Half-and-Half Chromis Chromis iomelas with its black fore-body and white rear body. We saw them mostly on scuba dives in more than 15 feet (5 meters) of water. They grow to just under 3 inches (about 8 cm) and were found either in large groups or solitary, such as the one above that swims over a blooming leather coral. (Tonga)
The more subtly colored Staghorn Damsels Amblyglyphidodon curacao live near Acropora coral on shallow reefs in the western Pacific from Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa north to Japan and south to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. They are abundant in Indonesia.  They may be found as deep as 15 meters. (Fiji) Staghorn Damsel

 

Blue Damsel Fish with an attitude
The lovely Blue Damsel Pomacentrus pavo is common on small coral heads in French Polynesia.  Their distinguishing mark, aside from the yellowish tail, is a dark "ear" spot, just visible in this shot. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia)
Mystery fish. White and yellow, black-finned Damsel?
We saw this lovely little white and yellow, black-finned Damsel on a dive in the Vava'u Group of Tonga in September. We have not been able to identify it.  Any help? (Tonga)
The Black Damsel Neoglyphidodon melas juvenile is stark and colorful, belying its name.  We have no good photo of the adult, a fact which I shall blame on its featurelessness.  To picture it, envision a damsel-shaped black hole.  Now compare that image with the photo, and you will understand how the juvenile was once considered to be a different species, until intermediates were found.  The Black Damsel is usually solitary and found on soft-coral reefs.  (Lizard Island, Australia) The juvenile Black Damsel is anything but black.

3-spot Dascyllus and Anemone Fish The juvenile Three-spot Dascyllus Dascyllus trimaculatus (black and white, left) are small damselfish that often hang out in anemones with Anemonefish (orange face and white bar).  As the former mature (right) they lose their spots to become sort of drab gray/black fish about 5-6 inches (15 cm) long.  If they're not fully mature, they may still have a spot or two, as in the picture on the right.  The only distinguishing mark is the pale rear dorsal fin.  Strange how nature gives the striking patterns to juveniles and leaves the adults alone.  I would think a predator would find the juveniles more easily than the adults!  (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia) Adult Three-spot Dascyllus
Yellow-Tailed Dascyllus?
We think this is a Yellow-Tailed Dascyllus Dascyllus flavicaudus, due to the yellow tail, but the description in our guide talks of a medium brown to dark brown body.  (The blue-yellow sheen could just be the camera flash.)  The dark spot on the upper pectoral fin base is also characteristic.  The blue lip?  Well, we don't know.  (Society Islands)
Humbug Dascyllus
With the unlikely name of Humbug Dascyllus Dascyllus aruanus, these bright splashes of black and white dart and swim around various coral heads seeking shelter and eating algae and plankton.  The white spot across the eyes is characteristic, as is the black ventral fin.  (Society Islands, French Polynesia)

With its bright neon-blue stripe extending from snout to below the rear dorsal fin, the 3-and-a-half-inch (8 cm) Surge Demoiselle Chrysiptera brownriggii is hard to miss.  It is found in surge channels and outer reef flats to about 35 feet or 12 meters. (Fr. Polynesia) Surge Demoiselle - no larger shot available
Yellowtail Demoiselle in NE Australia The Yellowtail Demoiselle Neopomacentrus azysron almost seems to be a different type of fish from the Surge Demoiselle above, given its modest coloring.  The black 'ear spot' above the pectoral fin is characteristic.  Yellowtail Demoiselles form schools to 12m. (Australia)

Blue-Green Chromis, Fiji The tiny Blue-Green Chromis Chromis viridis (left and right) grow to only 3 inches (7cm), but are bright against the corals down to a depth of 65' (20 meters).  They form large schools around thick coral gardens. They can be anywhere from blue to pale green, and have no distinctive markings except for a faint line from the eye forward to the upper lip. This characteristic is shared by the Black-Axil Chromis, which is distinguished by a black spot at the base of the pectoral fin. Photo right: Society Islands, French Polynesia. Photo left: Mamanucas, Fiji Blue-Green Chromis swarming around a favorite coral

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