When we visit reefs, we are accustomed to seeing a myriad of tropical reef fish. From the largeNapoleon Wrasse to tiny gobies that reside among the coral. We readily identify them based primarily on coloration and body design. However, as juveniles, many of them often have remarkably different characteristics. Although identifying juvenile fish may be much harder than identifying adults, the reason for this strategy is simple: survival.
Juvenile Harlequin Sweetlip (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides) – Photo & Text © Gunther Deichmann
Once juvenile fish settle onto the reef, they are extremely venerable to predation. Even the top predators themselves are easy prey when they are very small. Therefore, survival is often dependent upon their ability to protect themselves just as much as it is being able to find food. Many juvenile fish protect themselves by dwelling in more protected areas like mangroves and inner lagoons using camouflage to further their anonymity.
There are many fish that go that through drastic changes from juveniles to adults. My personal favorite is the Napoleon Wrasse (Chelinus ungulaus). Most divers are excited when they see this large fish. However, divers may swim right over the juvenile many times throughout the dive without a second glance. I have fun watching their reaction when I point out the juvenile Napoleon Wrasse; their eyes light up in almost disbelief.
The next time you are in Puerto Galera, spend some time in the more protected areas looking for some of your favorite fish. Finding them in their juvenile color patterns maybe a treat and provide even more reasons to be impressed by them.