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Hawaii's Reef Fishes
The blennies are a large family (over 300 species) of small, agile, bottom-dwelling fishes. All lack scales, and all have their pelvic fins clearly anterior to the pectorals, with an indistinct spine and 2 to 4 soft rays.
Most are blunt-headed, and many have small tentacles or cirri on the head; some have a median fleshy crest dorsally on the head. There is a continuous dorsal fin with 3-12 flexible spines; there may be a notch between the spinous and soft portions. All have 2 spines in the anal fin; these are capped with fleshy knobs in males, and the first is hidden by tissue in females.
The species of the genera Omobranchus and Plagiotremus have a pair of enormous curved canine teeth at the front of the lower jaw.
Some blennies, such as those of the genera Istiblennius and Entomacrodus, live inshore on rocky bottom exposed to surge; they are able to leap from pool to pool, hence are often called rockskippers.
Blennies tend to take refuge in small holes in the reef into which they back tail-first. Most tropical species graze on benthic algae; the Shortbodied Blenny ( Exallias brevis) is unusual in feeding on coral polyps.
The fangblennies of the genus Plagiotremus make rapid attacks on other fishes to remove mucus and skin tissue (sometimes with small scales); they do this with their small anterior incisiform teeth, not the large canines (which are used in defense).
Fangblennies often direct their attacks to divers, but one feels only a light touch when they make contact.
The blennies for which the reproductive habits are known lay demersal eggs that are guarded by the male parent. Fourteen species are recorded from the Hawaiian Islands. One of these, the wide-ranging Ecsenius bicolor, was found in Pearl Harbor in 1950 on a drydock towed from Guam; it has not been seen in Hawai'i since. The general Hawaiian name for blennies is pao'o.
Dotted Line Blenny
Cirripectes quagga (Fowler & Ball, 1924) Pao'o
Color variable; in Hawaii usually dark brown with vertical rows of very small white spots on body (4 or 5 spots per row); dorsal soft rays 14-16 (usually 15); cirri on nape 23-36 (usually 26-32). Largest, 3.5 inches (8.9 cm). Indo-Pacific, generally in less than 30 feet (9.2 m). Away from Hawaii, usually with dark bars on body, sometimes with a broad red or yellow area posteriorly.
Entomacrodus marmoratus (Bennett, 1828) Pao'o
Pale greenish, spotted and barred with dark brownish gray, the darkest spot on shoulder; dorsal soft rays usually 15 or 16; a long tentacle over eye with fine side branches; 2 small cirri on each side of nape (medial one branched). Attains nearly 6 inches (15 cm). Hawaiian Islands; occurs along rocky shores exposed to surf, often in the intertidal zone.
Cirripectes vanderbilti (Fowler, 1938) Pao'o
Dark brown, often with small bright red spots and short irregular lines on head; a bright red ring in outer part of iris; fringe of cirri on nape black; dorsal soft rays 13-15 (usually 14); cirri on nape 31-42; lower lip smooth. Largest, 4.4 inches (11.3 cm). Hawaiian Islands; known from the depth range of 3-36 feet (1-11 m); the most frequently seen species of the genus in Hawai'i. Closely related to C. variolosus (Valenciennes) from elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific (both occur at Johnson Island).
All information and pictures in this section are from John E. Randall's Shore Fishes of Hawai'i by permission of the author.
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