“More Fish Behaviour Reports Are Coming Through” by Steve Reynolds

Since writing Blennies Found Mating in January, more information has been coming through to me regarding fish behaviour.

Ralph Kinasz recently reported having built up a relationship with a ringed toadfish, Omegophora armilla. “The relationship I built with this fish was quite awesome,” he said, “but the tale is also a cautionary one for those of us that think we do no harm, by taking only photos and leaving only bubbles. This awesome fish never got to use its impressive bower it so painstakingly built and maintained because too many divers bothered it. It liked me because I brought it gifts and let it approach me. I didn’t chase it with cameras and lights, but others did, and it eventually couldn’t cope. These photos were taken after at least 10 dives with this industrious toad fish,” he said.

“Ever since I saw the amazing work of the lyre and Bower birds building fancy nests to impress the ladies, and having it so perfectly narrated by David Attenborough, I’ve always dreamed of seeing it in real life. Not long ago, I had the privilege of watching something far better. This industrious ringed pufferfish has spent weeks building his nest, arranging white and pink objects (mostly coral, shells and crab claws) with some fresh seaweed layered on top, that he changes regularly. He is so commented that he even changes the pattern of his nest from time to time. I’ve seen him busily working away for a few weeks now (and) most of his work now is just removing “inferior” pieces as he scours the sea floor to find only the best,” he said.

Society member, Jeff Bowey asked, “What were the gifts you used Ralph? We have had a few fish at our dive sites (not often dived by anyone other than us) accept us and even greet / follow us!”

Ralph’s response to Jeff was, “I’d find pieces of coral or crab shell that matched his colour scheme and think “Oh, he’d like this and would hold it out for him in my hand or place it on the ground. I saw him swimming all along the place carrying things back  …… I can see how some might frown on me having that kind of interaction, but I don’t think it was harmful or gave him too much of a sexual advantage that he didn’t already have.”

Jeff’s reply was, “Totally, it’s about not placing any pressure upon them (stress) wherever possible and allowing them to interact with you IF they choose.. always a fine line and always differing opinions, the moment we are in their environment we are having an impact regardless, minimizing it and always considering what we do / are doing is the key, we also need to study and observe to learn!”


Below are Ralph’s photos: –

Ralph Kinasz’s photos of a ringed toadfish filling a cup sponge with coral, shells, crab claws & seaweed

In response to an unknown comment on Ralph’s Facebook page, he replied, “Yeah, it looks like he is expanding his range as he forages for stuff. I’ve seen him about 50m away and the bottom in the area is clean of anything he would like.”


Ralph Kinasz’s photo of the ringed toadfish’s overflowing cup sponge

Shayla Klein commented, “Looks like a treasure chest!” Ralph’s reply was, “To him it was! it contained all of his most prized possessions. He slept in it, rearranged it and swum all over the dive site looking for more pretty shells and coral to put in it. Not to mention replacing the plants that he picked often to keep them fresh.”

Chelsea Haebich later wrote, “Weirdly enough, I was just thinking about this little critter and its nest building abilities today…so industrious…. I have a similar set of photos somewhere as well. One little dude at Rapid Bay I liked to sit with…he would settle and get about his business plonking shells and stones in a sponge for his future girlfriend…quite a special thing to see…. not sure anyone else was too aware what was going on… A Ringed Toadfish as well and he liked the pinks and purples too.”

Filippo Pappalardo added, “I’ve seen something similar (less spectacular) in Italy. I noticed a Coris julis carrying some seaweed and eventually realised they make nests!”.

Wayne Leifert recently reported having witnessed a pair of Ornate cowfish doing a ‘mating or spawning dance’. The following details accompanied Wayne’s video footage of the incident : –

“Nature is amazing when you see unexpected, unscripted behaviour! On my 100th dive, as I was ascending, I was rewarded – I saw two Ornate Cowfish off the sandy bottom (unusual) at about 8m depth doing the COWFISH MATING/SPAWNING DANCE (yep!).
I frantically returned my GoPro back to the “Record” position!! I believe the male is the darker fish, female is brighter with gold/blue. Please enjoy these beauties.”

Wayne sent those details on to me, with the message, “I saw your article on blennies mating. I also captured video (brief) I think of cow fish mating or going through some “courtship” process.”

He later added, “It was about 2-3 m off bottom. As I was ascending, I noticed these two cowfish Go around in circles as in the video. One was brown, the other typical gold colour. I watched for about 10 seconds before I got video on, as I approached them downwards, they then moved down towards the sand.” And “It was actually at Devil’s elbow, the second dive after we were at the Dredge earlier. Since the depth there is about 10m. I would guess this was about 7-8 m depth, on 25-11-17. I have never seen this cowfish behaviour, so I was excited to post it with my loose interpretation!”


Still shot from Wayne Leifert’s video footage of cow fish

(thought to be either mating or going through some “courtship” process)

I pointed out to Wayne that I thought that both cowfish appeared to be male, saying “The colour on the tail of the darker cowfish suggests male, and the pattern of dots on its back also suggest male. Females are striped on their backs. I suggest that the dark colour is due to stress or similar.”

Wayne also sent me this photo of many cowfish feeding on a crab at Port Hughes jetty on 6th January 2019: –

Wayne Leifert’s photo of many cowfish feeding on a crab at Port Hughes jetty

Wayne said that he hadn’t seen such feeding behaviour by cowfish before.


By Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve is a keen diver, underwater explorer, photographer and is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

2 thought on “More Fish Behaviour Reports Are Coming Through”
  1. We witnessed 2 ornate cowfish doing a ‘dance’ today at Port Noarlunga, similar to Wayne’s description (& yes, they were both male). We didn’t see an obvious female in the vicinity at the time.

  2. Steve and everyone else who has been involved in this lengthy thread, I am gobsmacked by the wealth of information and hypotheses.
    For one thing, I have often seen(mostly little) piles of shell fragments in cup sponges (old Rapid Bay jetty has plenty towards the outer end),but never understood how they got there. I tended to assume it was by wave action (especially storms and strong currents, or perhaps sometimes the result of focal disturbance of the bottom near the sponges eg from a stingray or other big fish).
    The opening part of this long story (which led on to various related topics) about the ringed puffer building it’s ‘bower’ is testament to the power of observation (and the uplifting, even mind altering benefits to the observer),and I struggle to think of a better local example.

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