“You broke my heart, ’cause I couldn’t dance; you didn’t even want me around; and now I’m back, to let you know, I can really shake ’em down.”
“Do you love me now that I can dance?”
— Lyrics from the 1962 Contours’ song Do you love me? written by Motown’s Berry Gordy Jr.
What does the Contours’ song, which topped the “Billboard Hot 100” chart in the United States twice — once in 1962 and again in 1988 following the release of the movie Dirty Dancing — have to do with a dive column, or fish for that matter? Well, if you are a trumpetfish, you gotta “shake ’em, down” if you want to get the attention of a lady trumpetfish.
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A few weeks ago, I was diving on Victory Reef, off Islamorada, which has numerous corals, caves, sand channels, ledges and all manner of large and small sea critters including sharks, eels and turtles.
Then I saw it, a large Atlantic trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) hovering near the reef — easy photo op.
The scientific names are derived from the Greek “auls,” meaning flute, and “stoma,” meaning mouth, referring to the tubular snout and the Latin word “macula,” meaning spot. English language common names include trumpetfish, Atlantic trumpetfish, Caribbean trumpetfish, trumpeter and painted flutemouth.
Trumpetfish live in depths of approximately seven to 80 feet, close to coral reefs and often swim vertically with their snouts down to blend in with sea fans, pipe sponges and sea whips. They can be found in the western Atlantic Ocean off South Florida and Bermuda and south to the northern coast of South America.
Most trumpetfish grow to about 24 inches long with the maximum reported length being about 40 inches.
The body of a trumpetfish is elongated. The head is compressed and the snout is very long with a trumpet-like mouth — hence the name trumpetfish.
Because they are similar in appearance, some folks confuse trumpetfish with their cousins, the cornetfish. Cornet fish can grow over 6 feet long. They are thinner and more elongated. A significant visible difference is that the tail of a cornetfish is a pointed “T” while the trumpetfish’s tail is rounded and fan-shaped.
Although there are tiny teeth on the lower jaw, the trumpetfish has no teeth on its upper jaw.
Most trumpetfish are mottled brown to reddish brown with black or brown spots. Some appear blue-gray, bright yellow or green. But, being stylish critters, they can change color to camouflage themselves.
This camouflage feature helps it get dinner.
Although it might look like the trumpetfish has a relatively small mouth, the floor of the narrow snout is very expandable, which enables it to expand to gobble up small fish and those even larger than the trumpetfish’s mouth.
The trumpetfish’s diet puts some sushi bars to shame and includes small shrimp, ocean surgeon, blue chromis, tomtate, French grunt, longspine squirrelfish, downy blenny, dusky blenny, redlip blenny, rusty goby, spotted goatfish, reef squirrelfish, yellowtip damselfish and bluehead.
Trumpetfish appear mild mannered. But, they are master hunters. They use a few sneaky techniques. One is shadow stalking when the trumpetfish uses a large fish (like a parrot fish or angel fish) as a blind to sneak up on its prey.
Once the unsuspecting prey realizes it has been tricked, it is too late; the trumpetfish attacks — gulp.
Another hunting trick used by the trumpetfish is to hang vertically among sea fans and other soft coral, drifting or swaying back and forth in the current until a meal swims by.
The trumpetfish then uses its large snout and triangle-shaped head to create suction to easily vacuum in its prey.
OK, back to the dance part. A trumpetfish’s courtship includes an elaborate “dance” and even changes in color. So, if you are a trumpetfish, you have to dance and look good if you want to get the girl.
Like their close relatives the seahorses, male trumpetfish are stay-at-home dads. After all the dancing, color changing and courtship are over, the female transfers her eggs to the male. The male then finishes the job by fertilizing the eggs and carrying them in a pouch until they are born.
Some biologists write that trumpetfish are rare.
The trumpetfish has not, however, been evaluated by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations that assesses the conservation status of species.
Although not a commercial food source, it is sometimes sold for human consumption.
Because of its interesting shape and habits, trumpetfish are popular display fish at public aquariums.
Many scuba divers tend to ignore or not spend much time watching trumpetfish. If you stay still for a while, you might be able to witness some exciting action by this amazing stealth hunter.
For more on trumpetfish see: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/gallery/Descript/Trumpetfish/Trumpetfish.html