Fish Architect


Fish Architect

In the photo - an amazingly beautiful picture at the bottom of East China Sea created by fish fins. In the center is visible its creator - the white-spotted puffer-puffer-torquigener Torquigener albomaculosus . This nest of sand is designed to attract the female and incubate the eggs laid by her.

In 1995 divers first discovered strange circular structures with a diameter of two meters off the southern coast of the Japanese island of Oshima archipelago Ryukyu at a depth of 10–27 meters. For almost twenty years, the nature of these structures remained a mystery until in 2011 underwater photographer Yohji Okata ( Yoji Okata ) Did not see a small fish covered with numerous white specks that erected sand circles on the bottom of the sea. In July 2012 the company team BBC together with David Attenborough made a documentary dedicated to the little builder. And only in 2014 came scientific article 3-3-3208. with a description of this species.

A male white-spotted pufferfish-torquigenera builds a nest

The white-spotted pufferfish became the twentieth species of the genus Torquigener . Torquigeners are relatives of poisonous fish, from which they make the famous Japanese dish fugu , they belong to the family pufferfish . The white-spotted puffer-torquigener is a small fish 8-12 cm long. The head and body are dotted with many white spots (hence the species name Albomaculosus - “white-spotted”) and small spines, on top they are covered with a thin brown net , belly - silver-white.

The males of these fish do not have a bright color or some other features that can attract females. To this end, they build the largest round nests of sand with a diameter of one or two meters and decorate them with fragments of shells and corals. Construction begins with a choice of location: it is important that there is enough fine sand and there is a slight current.

Having chosen a suitable territory, male inflicts "marking" caudal and pectoral fins, body pressed to the bottom. Dozens of small pits outline the outline of the future design. On the second day, still with the help of the fins, he lays radial grooves, and a round cavity forms in the center. In the following days, the male brings the nest to mind: expands the central part, increases the size of the structure and the number of grooves - there will be about thirty in total. By suspending the fluctuations of the fins in the direction of travel, the male adjusts the height of the ridges and the depth of the grooves. During the construction process, small particles of sand are transferred to the center.


Fish Architect

Stages of building a nest: a - early stage; b - middle stage; c - final stage; d - nest after spawning. Photo © Yoji Okata from an article by H. Kawase et al., 2013.3-3r3179. Role of huge geometric circular structures in the reproduction of a marine pufferfish


Creating a nest takes 7–9 days. On the last day, the male with an anal fin draws an asymmetric pattern in the center of the structure. There he finds pieces of shells and coral, which adorns the peaks of the "ridges".


Fish Architect

A male white-spotted pufferfish-torquigenera decorates the nest with shells. Photo from the article K. Matsuura, 2014. A new pufferfish of the genus Torquigener that builds "mystery circles" on sandy bottoms in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan (Actinopterygii: Tetraodontiformes: Tetraodontidae)


At this stage, the female appears. As it approaches, the male “throws” up a small amount of sand in the central part - probably so that the female was able to rate its quality and quantity (which is of great importance for the incubation of eggs). If the female is happy with everything, she swims to the central part of the nest. The male sets sail, and then abruptly rushes towards her, repeating this behavior several times. Then they sink to the bottom, the female lays eggs in the sand, and the male fertilizes it. One and the same female can swim away and come back several times, laying 1–4 eggs per parish. The male no longer demonstrates the quality of sand anew, but continues the game “swam away, swam up”. For a day, he can fertilize the eggs of several females: they make clutches in one nest, and the male for several days (six or longer, depending on the temperature of the water) monitors all eggs at the same time.


Fish Architect

Matrimonial behavior of white-spotted puffer-torqueneres. a - the male (marked 3–3–3211. With the black arrow 3–3–3212.) Scatters particles of sand in the center of the nest, seeing the female (3–3–3211. White arrow 3–3–3212.); b - the male (3-3-33211. On the left 3-3-33212.) Swam to the female; c - female at the bottom before spawning (3-3-33211. On the right 3-3-33212.); d - the male nibbles the female while she lays eggs. Photo from an article by H. Kawase et al., 2014.3-3r3169. Spawning behavior and paternal egg care in a circular structure constructed by pufferfish, Torquigener albomaculosus (Pisces: Tetraodontidae)


The pattern in the central part of the nest and the relief of the outer rings begin to collapse even during courtship games. However, the male does not pay attention to this. After the females lay eggs, he does not restore the former greatness of the nest, but only deals with offspring. The future father removes garbage from the central part, drives away other fish, brings sand in the mouth to where necessary, mixes it. By the time of fry hatching, the structure is already heavily destroyed by the current. When the fry appear, the male leaves the nest, and the new builds in the other place. Perhaps this is due to the lack of fine sand after erosion of the old nest. The male can build the next nest in parallel with taking care of the previous clutches. Every day, several times a day, he leaves his offspring for 30–40 minutes to erect another architectural masterpiece.

The characteristics of the nest are of great importance when choosing a sexual partner, not only in the white-spotted puffer-throat-torquigenera. For example, the blue-spotted ocean triggerfish 3-3-33211. Canthidermis maculata [/i] also build sand nests with a diameter of about one meter, male cichlids 3–3–3211. Cyathopharynx furcifer [/i] living in lake Tanganyika , doing there are small craters in the sand, and three-spined stickleback ( Gasterosteus aculeatus ) builds nests of sand, algae and sticks, securing all this with the secret of the kidneys.

But only a white-spotted puffer-torquigeneer equips not only a place for laying eggs, but also the area around, and even decorating it. Embossed circles decorated with shells play a large role in the selection of the future father by the female of her offspring. In addition, thanks to the grooves, this design makes it possible to more effectively collect in the center small particles of sand necessary for constructing a pattern and incubating eggs.

Frame from movie BBC

Alena Shurpitskaya

10 июнь 2020 /
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