The pumpkin’s been carved, the candy laid out. Your dogs and cats are probably decked in a casper costume and your daughter, as princess Anna or Elsa. But hey, what about your fish? They don’t look very scary. Sure most super creepy halloweeny fish live in the abyssal chasms of the ocean, with needle like teeth and other diabolical looking appendages. To be honest, some of them might look even scarier than you – and they didn’t even have to try. But even amongst our cute shallow water reef fish lay a special group that are ever ready to celebrate this holiday.
None of our halloween party goers today are scary. But they do have some special affiliation to the holiday. No not in the pumpkin spice kind of way. It’s in their names. The Dracula goby (Stonogobiops dracula) and Yasha goby (S. yasha) are pretty halloweeny. I mean with a name like the Dracula goby, how can you not be? S. dracula is found in the Indian Ocean, most commonly Maldives, and features a rounded semicircular dorsal fin with diagonals of red and black bands on its white body. It does have a rather mean looking face, but nope, he won’t be sucking any blood tonight.
S. yasha has a little more interesting background to its name. “Yasha” is the Japanese reading of the Sanskrit “Yaksha”, a broad group of supernatural beings portrayed differently across different beliefs. “Yakshas” are often portrayed with long fangs, and Stonogobiops yasha got its species name from its large pre-vomerine teeth found in its mouth. Perhaps Yoshino & Shimada thought that this reminded them of a Yaksha when they were in the process of describing the fish.
On the topic of fangs and vampires, two genus of blennies who wield sharp teeth and are not afraid to use them are Plagiotremus and Meiacanthus. Plagiotremus is a cunning and malicious group of slender reef fish, that always choose trick instead of treat. They are slender mimics of the peaceful service providing cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus. Unlike the cleaner wrasse who pick parasites and dead tissue off of fish, Plagiotremus fang blennies prefer eating pieces of flesh directly off the host. To do so, they are able to mimic the coloration and swimming behaviour of the ever welcomed cleaner wrasse, allowing them to swim up to the host fish and with their razor sharp fangs, bite a chunk of scales or flesh off. They then make a hasty retreat to trick another day.
Like Plagiotremus, Meiacanthus have sharp fangs as well. On top of that, they are venomous. Yes, you heard correctly. Located at the base of the fangs are venom glands that pump the not-so-happy cocktail into the wound of a a bitten victim. However like the preceding genus, Meiacanthus are peaceful fish and use their venomous bites only for defence. If you’ve never caught one with your hand, don’t. They can and will deliver a bite capable of drawing blood. Not painful, but not fun. Because of this talent, many reef fish have learn to mimic the Meiacanthus fang blennies. One such mimesis occurs between the harmless comb tooth blenny Ecsenius gravieri, and its venomous model Meiacanthus nigrolineatus. Certain juvenile breams have also learn to imitate their venomous models.
A fish with a rather morbid name, the blood-stained fairy wrasse has a rather good halloween costume. If gruesome murder happens to be the theme. The specific name sanguineus comes from the latin word sanguis, meaning blood. The blood-stained fairy wrasse is a very rare currently unobtainable Mauritian endemic that rarely enters the aquarium trade. Not quite scary looking but you got to give it to the fish. That’s a pretty neat idea dressing up as a slasher/slashee.
However when it comes to theme appropriate costumes, few can rival the Pinnatus batfish. Black and orange, the halloween theme colours are the only two shades this ghoulish fish needs. As juveniles, Platax pinnatus are the definition of halloweeny. In a soul sucking black cape, this phantom, a spectre of darkness floats about the reef like a wandering ghost. The featureless black body makes the orange outline stand out, almost akin to a stencil floating through the reef, like an apparition. Not to mention those long droopy ventral fins. Because even this fish knows how to pretend to be a ghost, in the most stereotypical sense.
Skeleton costumes also run the gamut during halloween, and is almost an icon for this holiday. In the fish world, the first prize for best skeleton costume goes to Echidna xanthospilos, the Skeletor Eel. This gorgeous black and white beauty isn’t really boney looking, but the beautiful monochrome pattern and that fitting name has got to be one of the coolest eel designs out there.
Of all the creatures that call our aquariums their home however, none is ever more ready for halloween than the well, halloween hermit crab. He’s always ready to knock on your door, he’s in his orange leggings 24/7 and, he even has the holiday for his name. Which of these are your favourite trick or treaters, and do you know of anymore halloweeny reef fish? Let us know in the comments below! A big thanks to Ben Johnson, Jim Gryzanowski and Michelle Ward for these cool suggestions! Happy halloween, from ReefBuilders.