Nov 2

Crapping sand: an update

Some time ago I posted a short essay on fish feces, and mentioned the role of parrot fish and similar animals in generating sand. I hadn’t been able to get this on film, despite having witnessed it many times. Well, on a recent diving trip to Cozumel, I finally got it!

Yes, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on a vacation, equipment, diving classes, and endured the rigors of scuba, just so I can take pictures of fish taking a dump. Everyone’s gotta have a reason for getting up in the morning.

Here is an image of two parrotfish at a cleaning station. I think they are both stoplight parrotfish On the left is a stoplight parrotfish, I’m not sure about the ID of the guy on the right.  At first I thought they were the same type of animal – many fish can look radically different, assuming varying colorations at will and in different phases of their lives (or at day/night). But they have different tails and “beaks” so I think they are different kinds of parrotfish.  I just couldn’t find an exact match in any of my books.

They are in a classic cleaning pose: floating motionlessly with heads up, bodies straight, jaws relaxed and slightly open. You can see the little yellow cleaners (initial phase bluehead wrasse, probably) darting about the larger animals. The inset is an ocean surgeonfish in the act of defecating. You can see that the turd is basically sand. That’s because these animals graze algae that grows on sand and coral, and end up eating some of the coral. It gets ground up in their gizzards and eventually excreted. Parrotfish and surgeonfish are similar in this regard.  I love those ocean surgeonfish, with eyes like psychedelic canceled stamps.

Parotfish crapping sand

Parotfish crapping sand

By the way, the original essay was part of the admission process for becoming a volunteer at the Baltimore Aquarium. I was accepted as a diver! So now I’ll be diving there regularly – feeding animals, scrubbing algae and talking with visitors.

4 comments

4 Comments so far

  1. Niffer November 3rd, 2008 10:35 AM

    That is so dang cool! I’m jealous!

  2. spleeness November 3rd, 2008 10:54 AM

    I love the description: “with eyes like psychedelic canceled stamps” — easy to remember next time I see pictures of those guys.

  3. Kelly O November 3rd, 2008 2:40 PM

    I loved the fish pooping essay, and so did my kids. Congrats on becoming a volunteer diver! That’s awesome.

  4. Laurie Bonjo November 8th, 2008 12:12 PM

    Yes, I agree on the “with eyes like psychedelic canceled stamps”~ love it, gave me shivers. Great pics, too. Y’all are very cute. And I am so jealous of the kayaks… I plan to buy one after the Harley that I am buying after I get this damn grad school process over… It’s always after, after, after. wink.

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