Continuing our macro tour, this time we are going to look at one of the most difficult critters to snap, the Whip Coral Goby!
Whip Coral Gobies, also known as Wire Coral Gobies and Sea Whip Gobies, are members of the enormous Gobiidae family, home to over 2000 different species of gobies found in almost every niche in the ocean. You will have almost definitely seen a goby whilst on a dive, so let’s chat about one of my favourites!
Whip Coral Goby
What’s in a name?
Whip Coral Gobies are named after the habitat they are found on, the whip coral Cirrhipathes. As far as scientific names are concerned, I cannot find much information on how their names are created. The second part, yongei, is a shortening of youngei and is named after either it’s discoverer or the boat’s captain, as other goby species have been. The first Bryaninops comes from Greek, meaning ‘resembling Bryaninius’. This may come from an old genus name that now no longer exists but I cannot find anything about it, maybe again it’s named after a discoverer. Or maybe the goby just reminded the guys naming it of someone, I’ll update this if I ever find out!
Habitat and distribution.
Whip Coral Gobies are found in most tropical and subtropical waters from the Red Sea to the Pacific Ocean. As they are found on the Whip Coral, they are found wherever those corals can be seen. The coral needs some sunlight and therefore can be found between 5m and 45m, usually on walls or areas stood proud of the reef.
Looks that kill.
One of the reasons why Whip Coral Gobies are great photography subjects is their fantastic colours and body markings. The main body of the fish itself is semi-transparent, allowing you to see the organs inside the fish or any parasite that might be living under its skin! The markings on the fish itself then take on patterns and colours based on the whip coral it is living on, usually showing as large blotches of bright reds, pale oranges and yellows or deep lilacs and purples. This helps them to hide amongst the tentacles of the corals. Some Whip Coral Gobies can also be seen with white scales along their vertebrae but it is unknown if this is displayed in all individuals or if it is another camouflage.
The head of the goby is a little different from the body as these tend to be much more brightly coloured. Ranging from reds to violets, similar to the body patterns, one thing that really stands out on these fish, like on many gobies, is their eyes. Gobies possess very large eyes compared to their body size, a sign of an active predator, which can be vivid pinks and bright violets to deep reds and almost luminous oranges and yellows. It is not clear why the eyes are such a bright colour but one theory is that by being bright and colourful they might appear like a poisonous nudibranch, thereby stopping predation on their most obvious parts.
Whip Coral Gobies are benthic spawners, which means they lay their eggs externally and the males then fertilise them. There is then some parental care as the parents waft the eggs, removing dead ones and cleaning algae, similar to the clownfish we talked about earlier. Once the young have hatched, however, they are on their own!
Like many other fish we have mentioned in this series, Coral Whip Gobies are able to change their sex based on a need for a particular gender. It is unknown how often they can change but it appears they can change from either sex to the other. They are often found in pairs on a whip coral but it is unknown if this is because they breed for life or if this is just for convenience.
Life on the reef.
Spending most of their lives on the Whip Coral, life for these gobies is a game of holding on! To help with this, Whip Coral Gobies possess a modified set of pelvic fins, formed into a sort of suction cup, allowing them to grip down tight to the coral in strong currents. Whilst hunkered down they eat small invertebrates and planktonic organisms as they are carried past. The relationship with the whip coral is a symbiotic one, as the goby uses the coral for protection and in turn, keeps the coral clean of any encrusting algae or other things that might threaten the coral. However, this doesn’t stop them from being a pest by removing polyps from the skeleton of the coral and laying their eggs in the gaps left behind.
Another adaptation the Whip Coral Goby possesses is a set of gills slightly lower on their heads, almost under the head by the pectoral fins. This allows them to breathe but reduces the amount of movement that can be seen from above by a potential predator.
A true cryptic fish, these gobies grow to around 3.5mm making them quite difficult to spot! Males are usually slightly larger than females but they appear very similar to the external sex organs look almost identical to the native eye. I cannot find any data about their likely lifespans but in general, gobies live between one and ten years so I would imagine they would be somewhere in this range.
Whenever I am diving I always make sure to scan any whip corals that stretch out to see if there are any gobies on them. They are well camouflaged so what usually gives them away is their brightly coloured eyes. You need to approach slowly though, as if the goby gets spooked by you they will swim away incredibly quickly and hide somewhere else on the whip. A slow, careful approach is needed and takes care to breathe slowly as a sudden release of bubbles will also spook the goby. Take a bit of time to set up the perfect shot as the fish might not let you get a second one so easily!
Another thing to be aware of is that these corals are often located in areas with a current so make sure that you are not likely to swim into them and damage them, they are living creature as well as being a home for others!
One last thing to bear in mind hunting these critters is the depth. Whilst they can be found in shallow depths, they can be found up to 45m down so make sure to keep an eye on your no-deco limits.
It’s also worth keeping your eyes open for other critters living on the whip corals as they are really weird and wonderful. Various nudibranchs can be seen, along with a whole plethora of shrimps but the weirdest has to be the xenocrab. We might look at some of these other critters in a later post so stay tuned!
The bottom line.
As with all things in diving, taking things slow and keeping your eyes open will provide you with all sorts of rewards. The Whip Coral Goby is a great little macro critter that will have you smiling when you see them and swearing into your regulator when you move a bit too close and they vanish! Whilst they can be seen in lots of places, a great place to start is the Maldives. The Best of the Maldives will take you to a whole heap of fantastic sites, most of which will be perfect for whip coral growth. Keep your eyes peeled for the small stuff, it’s not all about whale sharks and manta rays! We currently have plenty of fantastic offers on boats like Emperor Serenity and Scubaspa, why not give us a call and see what we can do for you.
I’m a big fan of small critters, they’re more rewarding to spot than the big stuff as it’s more than being in the right place at the right time. I was converted to the love of the Goby by a good friend and while I don’t quite possess his Goby addiction, finding them always makes me smile. Hopefully, you’ll be a convert to the way of the Goby soon too!