Rare & Exotic Critter Hunt

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There are a guild of divers that call themselves “critter hunters.” These individuals go to locations in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean in search of unusual invertebrates and fishes (which are endearingly referred to as “critters”). This group contains species that are unusual in form and/or behavior. Some are diminutive in size and/or live in association with other marine animals. Some are down right ugly, while others are stunning in appearance. Some are venomous, others are harmless. We will take a look at some of these special marine creatures.

How to Become a great “Critter Hunter”

Long-time divers and diving enthusiasts delight in the discovery of the biggest, the smallest, the most cryptic, or the rarest marine creatures. Learn what it take to become a great “Critter Hunter”.

The thrill of discovery

I’m not sure if all people like treasure hunts or whether it takes a certain personality. But as a long-time diver, the vast majority of diving enthusiasts that I’ve met on dive trips seem to have a fairly competitive nature when hunting for the biggest, the smallest, the most cryptic, or the rarest marine creatures.

The biggest, the smallest, the rarest…

It seems the longer the person has been diving and the more diving territory they’ve traveled, the more demanding the hunt becomes. The stakes are higher. For instance, it isn’t enough to say you’ve found a beautiful and rare nudibranch on a dive. The best “hunter” might come back with a report of finding a pair of rare nudibranchs mating (no less) on an equally rare coral species (no less) — hiding under an overhang (no less) — at 22.5 meters (no more, no less)!

Of course, the competitive nature of less fortunate “hunters” might elicit verbal challenges of validity. But there is nothing more humbling for a doubting audience than when the “discoverer” proudly displays “proof” with enhanced, digital video footage of his or her discovery!

How do they find these critters?

The secret to finding the biggest, the smallest, the cryptic and rare or unusual marine life has more to do with knowledge than with luck or coincidence. The best “critter hunters” dive with knowledge about the life styles and preferences of the marine life they hope to encounter. They know the time of day, the reef “zone”, and the type of reef “cover” that a particular species prefers. They know the type of symbiotic relationships a species develops. They’ve learned how and when to approach a species for quality observation. All of this knowledge increases a diver’s chance of consistently making the most of any reef ecosystem.

So much information, so little time!

Where does one start with a study of marine life when there are so many species to learn about? Here are several suggestions that may help you in your continuing education.

Start with a particular family or species of marine life.

Your next dive destination may be known for a particular species of marine life. Use the DiveGlobal Marine Life reef fishes and sharks encyclopedias to research the species by common, scientific or family name. Learn all you can about the distinguishing characteristics and behaviors between similar species.

Check out the marine life online information. Then, on your next dive trip, make it your mission to identify and observe the species you’ve studied. Over time, become an expert on a particular species or family!

Idea: Use a dive slate to record species names and a brief description of distinguishing features for selected species. Take this along on your dive as a quick reference. Make a check mark by the species and note the number encountered during the dive. This is useful when recording observations in your dive log later.

Become an expert on a particular species that captures your interest.

Becoming knowledgeable about ALL species of marine life would be a daunting goal. Even the best marine biologists tend to have their areas of expertise. So, why not chose a species that captures your interest and fascination? Learn all you can about the species you’ve chosen and then make your trips “missions” to learn more about the species.

Idea: Develop a file of information about the species that you’ve chosen to study. Take the file with you on dive trips to study prior to dives. Make entries in your dive log about the species behaviors you’ve observed on dives and the frequency of encounters with the species.

Share this information on the DiveGlobal comments or with other divers who share your interest in the species.

Chose to learn and see more!

Choosing to become more knowledgeable about the marine life you encounter is the first step to becoming a consistently great “critter hunter.” Next, you’ll need to set aside a few minutes every day or week throughout the year to read about one or two species. Even if you only read something once a week, you will have learned about 52 species in a year! And best of all, when you’re on your next dive adventure, you’ll know when, where and how to spot the “best of the reef” during your dives. This is great way of enhancing your diving enjoyment, getting the best return on your dive trip investment, and becoming known as a great “critter hunter”!

How to be an expert fish watcher by honing your observation skills

One of the main reasons most of us dive or snorkel is to experience the amazing diversity of life found on the coral reef.

How many other eco-systems can you visit where you can encounter so many different types of organisms? You can walk for days through an alpine forest, a desert or a marsh and not encounter as many animal species as you see on a single, one-hour dive on a coral reef! Even though most of us observe a lot when exploring a coral reef, many of us miss more than we see. It’s easy to see why. There is so much to look at that it often results in sensory overload!

Look out for special fish behaviors

Not only do many reef fishes display interesting form and color, most also exhibit fascinating behaviors. It’s possible to witness some of these behaviors everytime you explore a coral reef. You just need to know what to look for and where to look.

Learning about marine life will enhance your appreciation for this eco-system and lead to preservation.

The Flamboyant Cuttlefish

The flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) is at the top of many critter divers “want to see list”.

The Rhinopias!

Is it something from outerspace? You won’t believe such fascinating fish exist!

The “King of the Critters,” Rhinopias frondosa, is a favorite with those divers looking for the rare and unsual.

The Humpbacks

The humpbacked scorpionfishes are regularly encountered by divers in the Indo-Pacific.

The family Scorpaenidae is a large group that contains an estimated 350 species and 70 genera. Family members have large heads, mouths and eyes, a bony ridge running from the eye across the cheek (the supraorbital stay), spines on the gill cover and head and stout fin spines (the latter are venomous in most species). The spines responsible for delivering the venom are associated with the dorsal, anal and pelvic fins. In some species, there is glandular tissue on each side of the spine that produces the venom. In others there is a gland that secretes the venom into a duct running through the spine.

One group in this family known as the humpbacked scorpionfishes is a subset of species that belong to the genus Scorpaenopsis. These species have a hump on the back, which is more pronounced in some, less so in others. They also have brightly-colored, inner pectoral fin surfaces. They are frequently encountered by divers and are often photographed because of their grumpy appearance and sometimes interesting color patterns.

Speak of the Devil!

The Inimicus are commonly referred to by colorful names like sea goblins, bearded ghouls, demon stingers and devilfishes.

The devilfish is a venomous critter that can vary in color from dull to dramatic.

Coldwater Critters

Temperate waters can also be a great place to hunt for and find rare and unusual marine life. The Edithburg Pier in South Australia is a prime hunting ground.

When most of us think of critter diving, we think of the tepid waters of Indonesia or Papua New Guinea. Temperate waters can also be a great place to hunt for and find rare and unusual marine life. One of the best places in South Australia is near the small town of Edithburg. Here you are able to dive on the other side of the Spencer Gulf, fossicking between pier pilings in search of coldwater critters.

Tulamben Critter Hunt

If you’re the kind of diver who enjoys hunting for rare and unusual marine life, Tulamben should be on the top of your “to dive” list.

Located on the northeast coast of Bali, Indonesia, is a small village called Tulamben. Beside this mile-long stretch of arid coastline lies an incredible underwater environment populated by a variety of rare and unusual marine creatures. Take a look at any Coral Sea book and you will see that the many of the photos were taken at Tulamben. It’s the kind of place that you could either love or hate. A diver who prefers white sand bottoms reflecting brightly in the sun, acres of coral gardens, clouds of reef fishes, or encounters with schools of pelagics might find Tulamben boring after a few dives. If, however, you are the kind of diver who enjoys hunting for and finding the rare and unusual marine life, Tulamben should be on the top of your “to dive” list.

Aussie Anglers

While most divers think of tropical waters as the best frogfish hunting grounds, there are some amazing species on rocky reefs and pier pilings in South Australa.

While most divers think of tropical waters as the best frogfish hunting grounds, there are some amazing species on rocky reefs and pier pilings in South Australa. There are five species of frogfish (called anglerfishes by the locals) in the Edithburg area. Four of these are regularly seen if you hunt four them. They tend to be rather secretive, spending their time among encrusting invertebrates or under benthic debris. If you are going to have any luck seeing the various species, you will have to be prepared to do some “junk” flipping.

The smooth frogfish is one of the more common species in South Australia, but it can be difficult to find.

Behold The Hairy One!

What is the hairy frogfish? Why is it hairy? When and where are you likely to encounter this beast? You will never see so many frogfish photos in a single place!

Frogfishes have long been a favorite with divers, but few in this group have received more attention than the “species” commonly known as the “hairy” frogfish.

The Creator has equipped his subjects with a variety of anatomical and behavioral features to aid them in capturing prey. Lionfishes, groupers, barracudas and sharks all come to mind as reef fishes “blessed” with predatory talent. The frogfishes, however, have to be the most gifted predators on the reef.

Frogfishes: Anglers of the Reef

The Creator has equipped his subjects with a variety of anatomical and behavioral features to aid them in capturing prey. Lionfishes, groupers, barracudas and sharks all come to mind as reef fishes “blessed” with predatory talent. The frogfishes, however, have to be the most gifted predators on the reef.

The Mantis Shrimp

The coral reef is home to a plethora of unusual marine creatures. But there are few that can compare in appearance, physiology and behavior to the alien-like mantis shrimps. Although they are referred to as “shrimp,” they are not closely related to the shrimp we often see on coral reefs. In fact, they are in an entirely different order.

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