Trans Caribbean Times
Newsletter Yearly Archives 2005
2005
Jan
15
Vol. 5 Issue 1 | The Mexican Flamingo

With their bright feathers, strongly hooked bills, and long thin legs, Flamingos are among the most easily recognized water-birds. The Mexican Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber) is the largest and most brightly colored species; with their outer layer of scarlet pink feathers and black primary undercoat.

Pink is the Perfect Color!

Why are Flamingos pink? The cause of the Flamingo’s “pretty pink plumage” is related to what a Flamingo eats. The Flamingo’s diet consists largely of blue-green and red algae, small insects, crustaceans, molluscs, and small fish. These food sources, primarily the algae, are rich in alpha and beta cartenoid (think carrots) pigments, and it is these pigments that give the Flamingo’s feathers their color.

The Flamingo also has very distinctive eating habits. Long legs let Flamingos wade into deeper water than most other birds to look for food. To eat, Flamingos need to hold their bill upside down in the water! They feed by sucking water and mud in at the front of their bill, and then pumping it out again at the sides. Here, briny plates called lamellae act like tiny filters, trapping shrimp and other small water creatures for the Flamingo to eat. For big meals such as molluscs, and larger crustaceans, they have to wade into shallow water and dig through the mud. Sometimes they swim to get their food, and sometimes by “upending” (tail feathers in the air, head underwater) like ducks.

The More the Merrier

Flamingos are social birds that like to live in groups of varying sizes, from a few pair to sometimes thousands or tens of thousands. They appear to be monogamous, with mating pairs staying together over a lifetime. Not only are Flamingo’s gregarious and adapt well to living in close quarters with one another, but have also developed distinct displays which they exhibit in synchrony (for a description of these displays, check out the ‘Flingo Lingo’ box below!).

Pick Famingo close-up Flock of flamingo Feeding flamingo Close-up Flying flamingos

Up, Up, and Away!

In order to fly, flamingos need to run a few paces to gather speed. This speed is not related to the ground but rather to the air, so they usually take off facing into the wind. In flight, flamingos are quite distinctive, with their long necks stretched out in front and the equally long legs trailing behind. Their outstretched wings showcase the pretty black and red (or pink) coloration. When flying, flamingos flap their wings fairly rapidly and almost continuously. And, as with most other flamingo activities, they usually fly together in large flocks. The flamingos follow each other closely, using a variety of formations that help them take advantage of the wind patterns.

Flamingos make their home in lagoons and lakes where there is lots of shallow water. Keep an eye out for them as you travel around the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. Remember that man is a Flamingo’s worst enemy, so take a picture and move on; let’s keep these beautiful birds a part of Mexico!
FLINGO LINGO


2004
Sep
15
Vol. 4 Issue 8 | Underwater Weirdness is the Norm!

The warm waters of the Caribbean are home to multitudes of strange and exotic fish. Most change colors, some change shape (shape shifters), and some can even change sex (transsexuals). Things aren’t always what they seem at first blush.
Caribbean Reef Octopus (Octopus briareus) 

The Caribbean Reef Octopus is common along the Costa Maya and off the shores of Cozumel. Like most octopi, this species is nocturnal. They are easy to find (for an octopus) by snorkeling in shallow water at night with a powerful dive light as they reflect a distinctive blue-green color. This coloring comes from large, specialized cells in the octopus’ skin called chromatophores, which also allow for instant color changes.

The Caribbean Reef Octopus has rather sophisticated eyes and excellent vision. Once its prey is spotted, it is captured using the suckers lining the underside of each of the eight arms, and bitten by a beak located at base of arms. This beak injects the prey with a toxin which then paralyzes it. Small fish aren’t the only thing a Caribbean Reef Octopus will snack on; sometimes feeding on other octopi, usually the weak or injured adults and/or their young.

The Octopus travels by forcing water from its mantle through a highly directable tube (called a siphon) to gain thrust when swimming. It is also a shape shifter, with the ability to squeeze its body through tiny cracks in the reef the size of key holes. 

 

Caribbean Reeef Octopus
Clown Fish (Amphiprion percula) 

The Clown Fish is bright orange with three white vertical stripes and rounded fins that have thick black margins. Clown Fish are also called Clown Anemonefish, as they make their home among sea anemone; fisheating animals that look like undersea flowers and have hundreds of poisonous tentacles. The anemone’s tentacles kill other fish that touch them, but the Clown fish seems to be immune to its poison. Scientists think that the Clown fish may be coated with a mucous that protects it from becoming an anemone’s prey. The anemone protects the Clown fish from most predators, who know not to go near the anemone’s tentacles.

Clown Fish
Parrot Fish (Scarus viride) 

The Parrot Fish can be recognized by its large, heavy scales and a beak-like jaw. The different species of Parrot Fish can be distinguished by the upper and lower teeth structure in the jaw, as well as their distinctive coloring. These herbivorous reef fish graze on corals and algae growing on the surfaces of rocks throughout the reef.

Parrot Fish
The strong beak-like fused teeth are used to bite off pieces of stony corals. It is not the hard coral skeleton that provides nourishment, but rather the coral polyps that grow on the surface of this skeleton. Living within these coral polyps are various forms of algae and plankton which the Parrot Fish receives nourishment from. 

Parrotfish can undergo sex reversals during their life history. It is believed that sex changes occur when population densities are low, resulting in a lack of breeding males or females. Primary males are born male, and remain so throughout their lives while secondary males are born female, changing both sex and color to become male.

Queen Triggerfish (Balistes vetula) 

The Queen Triggerfish ranks along with the Queen Angelfish as one of the most beautiful fish of the Caribbean. The base color of the fish is a light yellow while the dorsal and posterior fins are tinted in blue, and the patterns of colors can range from purple, blue, turquoise and green.

Queen Triggerfish

An interesting aspect of this fish is its ability to rapidly darken or lighten their colors, possibly for mating or as a defense mechanism. The Triggerfish often feeds on sea urchins, flipping them over and attacking the underside. All Triggerfish have the unique ability to lock their first two dorsal spines in an upright position, providing a defense against the larger predators of the oceans that try to make a meal of them.

Splendid Toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) 

The Splendid Toadfish, a.k.a. Coral Toadfish, is quite an interesting fish. This toadfish is unique in that it has only been found in one place just off Cozumel Island! The flattened head is especially striking with its densely packed black and white stripes. The ventral fins are entirely yellow; the rest of the fins have an attractive yellow boarder. When identifying the Splendid Toadfish, also look for the very prominent barbels around its mouth. Splendid Toadfish may be splendid and colorful, but they aren’t that interested when it comes to the spotlight.

Splendid Toadfish
This is a shy species, most likely to be found in crevices and other dark recesses, where it is supported by its pectoral fins. They are most frequently seen hiding amongst the coral with only the head visible. If you want to try and get a full view of its entire body, try coaxing it out with some pieces of fruit, like ripe melon! We hope that you enjoy all the beautiful fish that the Caribbean has to offer. There are more fish in the sea than we could possibly name, but good luck in looking for and identifying as many as you can find! 

Remember, most of these fish live in protected parks and habitats! We at Trans Caribbean Trust ask that you enjoy them as a spectator, don’t try and capture and keep them. Let them be enjoyed by all in their natural environment!

Andrew Synyshyn



2004
May
15
Vol. 4 Issue 4 | The Langosta – Your New Neighbor

Although not a true lobster, the misnamed Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) is really a member of the crayfish family. It is sometimes called Rock Lobster or Marine Crayfish, and is considered to be a delicacy.

Commonly referred to as the Florida Spiny Lobster, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster inhabits tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Spiny lobsters get their name from the forward-pointing spines that cover their bodies to help protect them from predators. They vary in color from almost white to dark red-orange. Two large, cream-colored spots on the top of the second segment of the tail make spiny lobsters easy to identify. They have long antennae over their eyes that they wave to scare off predators and smaller antennae like structures called antennules that sense movement and detect chemicals in the water.

Caribbean Lobster
Adult Spiny Lobsters make their homes in the protected crevices and caverns of coral reefs, sponge flats and other hard bottomed areas. Lobsters stay in their dens during daylight hours to avoid predators, emerging a couple of hours after dark to forage for food. The lobsters return to the safety of their dens several hours before sunrise. During its lifetime, the Spiny Lobster will eat a wide variety of foods consisting of clams, mussels, crabs, and worms, and occasionally plants. There is evidence that lobsters have cannibalistic tendencies, feeding on other lobsters if given the chance. Just as the lobster will eat up to 100 different kinds of animals, there are at least as many animals that feed on lobster. Humans, naturally, are the primary consumers of lobster, followed by cod, flounder, eels, crabs, and seals.

The Spiny Lobster makes a remarkable annual migration in which large numbers of lobster move single file across the sea floor from shallow to deep water. Although the purpose of the migration is poorly understood, it is believed to be involved with reproduction and occurs just before spawning season. When spring comes, the adult females spawn thousand of eggs in the deep sea waters.

When the Spiny Lobster hatches, it faces an uphill battle; of the 10,000 eggs that a female might release, only about 1% will survive past the first four weeks of life. The young lobster must go through four stages in the first month with the goal of becoming a competent swimmer. At this time, the young lobster begins the mission of finding a safe place on the bottom of the ocean on which to settle. While it matures, the features of the lobster become more distinct, including, a spine studded shell, long antennae, and the absence of claws.

An interesting physical characteristic that the Spiny Lobster shares with all species of lobsters is, that it sheds (molts) its shell up to 25 times in the first five years of life. Once the lobster becomes an adult, the molting event decreases to once a year. Once at maturity a lobsters new shell will last about a year and throughout its life it needs quite a few of them. One of the most amazing traits of this creature is its lifespan. A single Spiny Lobster can live 50 plus years! Have you ever met a meal that was older than you?!

On Costa Maya you can find many places that will prepare you a delicious lobster dinner, but remember you can always catch your own! For a list of exotic lobster recipes please E-mail our Senior Correspondence Administrator, Yury Diana Di Pasquale at oceanfront@transcaribbeantrust.com. Don’t forget to mention the Costa Maya Times article on Lobsters!

Andrew Synyshyn