Seeing Critters Outside their Corals

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There is a cryptic reef community tucked in between these branches.

For almost 3 years now, I have been surveying semi-cryptic critters living inside cauliflower corals, Pocillopora meandrina. Glimpses of claws, legs, fins, eyes – I have known these critters in the light glow of a flashlight. Some of them are bolder than others and have swum outside the coral branches in full view or stood near the edges of the coral branches and even tried to pinch at my gloves to defend their coral from me. For the most part, I have known them from hints of their existence observed in the shadows between the coral branches.

This month I have been setting up a field experiment to better understand community interactions. To do this, I needed to remove some critters from the corals to establish sets of corals with similar communities. As part of this process, the critters that I had been enjoying glimpses of were exposed, and wow – they were spectacular!!!

Critters outside their coral home.
Critters outside their coral home.
They did whatever they could to try and hide.
The critters did whatever they could to try and hide.

My amazing field assistant, Debra Ford, and I tried to capture our own photos of these critters. We also invited Keoki Stender, a local celebrity when it comes to species IDs and photos, to get some shots of these critters outside of their normal coral shelter.

View of a snapping shrimp inbetween coral branches, and a few we temporarily took off their corals.
A snapping shrimp in between coral branches. Some individuals we temporarily took off their corals.
Dwarf scorpionfish in coral and exposed.
Dwarf scorpionfish in coral and exposed.
Hawaiian velvetfish in coral and exposed.
Hawaiian velvetfish in coral and exposed.
Juvenile domino damselfish from one of our corals.
Juvenile domino damselfish from one of our corals.
Previous available image of the brown guard crab, next to two new photos including the juvenile coloration.
Previous available image of the brown guard crab, next to two new photos (from our corals) including the white and black juvenile coloration.
Previous available photo of the common guard crab, and two new photos of this crab species out of the coral branches.
Previous available photo of the common guard crab, next to two new photos of this crab species (from our corals).

Resources like Keoki’s webpage are invaluable for people to learn about and identify critters in our oceans. Also – shameless plug – you can order copies of his beautiful prints! It was incredible to see these critters out of their normal shelters and we are so happy Keoki was able to help capture them. I am excited to announce that we were even able to add 3 species to Keoki’s Marine Life Photography Webpage!

Three new species (for Keoki's website) that our hard work exposed from within the coral branches.
Three new species (for Keoki’s website) that our hard work exposed from within the coral branches.