Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Paracheilinus sp. (not flashing) from Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Paracheilinus filamentosus (not flashing), Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.

The top photo above shows a flasher wrasse that I photographed on the “house reef” at Kungkugan Bay Resort, Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi. When I first took the shot I thought it was simply a filamented flasher wrasse (Paracheilinus filamentosus). (It is not actually flashing, but has its fins spread as it is being cleaned by a juvenile tubelip wrasse [Labropsis].) While it is no doubt similar to P. filamentosus (it has the lunate tail, has multiple dorsal fin filaments and the color pattern is similar overall), after further analysis I am convinced it is an undescribed species.

Why do I say that? Compare the size of the dorsal and anal fins of the two species above. In the Lembeh fish these fins are much deeper than those of the "true" Papua New Guinea P. filamentosus. Also, note the dorsal filaments and how close some of them are together – they almost appear to be paired, while those of the "true" P. filamentosus are more randomly distributed along the fin edge. There are similarities in the general coloration, but yet there are certainly differences. Neither individual in the photos above are exhibiting their “flashing” colors. Note the red on the dorsal and anal fins of the male Lembeh flasher. Also note the ventral coloration – the "true" P. filamentosus has a pinkish-white belly, while that of the Lembeh flasher is orangish yellow. It will take the collection of the Lembeh fish and some closer examination, as well as DNA analysis. What do you think? Different or color morphs of the same fish?
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael

Monday, July 28, 2008


OK loyal gobies to grizzlies purveyors - how about some wallpaper? I have been using this one on my own monitor for a while and really love this fish! Just click on the photo above and set it as desk top background. (Please - use it for your computer or send it to a friend.)

It is, of course, Pseudocheilinus ocellatus, the whitebarred, tailspot or mystery wrasse. The first one of these beautiful fish that I saw was in a holding tank in Hawaii in 1991. Richard Pyle had collected it for his girlfriend (now wife's) father while diving in Japan. I was mesmerized by the colors of this then undescribed labrid. It was not until 1999 that Dr. John Randall described the beautiful little beast. The color is somewhat variable. Some are more pink overall, while others exhibit a purple base color. The presence or boldness of the white bars on the body is also variable. The whitebarred wrasse has been reported from Cocos Keeling Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, the Fiji Islands, Japan, the Marshall Islands, Cook Islands, Pitcairn Island and Johnston Atoll. It tends to prefer greater water depths than its congeners, having been reported at depths of 20 to 58 m (65 to 189 ft.).

If you have a chance to get one of these beautiful fish for your reef tank, I would. You can even place one of these fish on its own in a larger nano-reef (e.g., 20-gallons). There is only one downside with P. ocellatus. As with others in the genus, it can be a bit of a bully. It is especially hard on smaller fishes added to a tank after it - larger P. ocellatus are especially prone to thuggery. On the other hand, I have had whitebarred wrasse that were the recipient of heterospecific-labrid aggression. For example, I had a medium-sized individual that was incessantly chased by a crescenttail hogfish (Bodianus sepiacaudus). The hogfish did not bother any of the other fishes in the tank, including fairy wrasses and a small pinkstreaked wrasse (Pseudocheilinops ataenia), but for some reason, the hogfish “hated” the P. ocellatus!

Provide this fish with plenty of overhangs and caves for refuging. But, it will usually acclimate to the aquarium quickly and begin spending much of its time in full view. I have had P. ocellatus leap out of an open aquarium when they were being harassed by other fish. They might also jump out of the aquarium when the lights are turned-off. The whitebarred wrasse will scan live rock as it searched for smaller prey items. It is a minimal threat to ornamental invertebrates, including crustaceans. I have kept it with several different species of cleaner shrimps without incident. That said, I should point out that larger P. ocellatus might eat ornamental shrimps and crabs, especially when these crustaceans are molting.

Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Cirrhilabrus beauperryi (male): a newly described species once confused with C. punctatus. Photo taken in Milne Bay, PNG. Scott W. Michael.

Cirrhilabrus beauperryi (male): the same specimen seen above exhibiting temporary spawning colors. Scott W. Michael.

Cirrhilabrus punctatus (male): from Vanuatu. Scott W. Michael.

Cirrhilabrus punctatus (male): from Savu Savu, Fiji. Scott W. Michael.

Cirrhilabrus punctatus (female): from Beqa, Fiji. Scott W. Michael.

There are species within the genus Cirrhilabrus that are highly variable. So variable in fact, that some ichthyophiles have suggested that more than one species may be lumped under a common binomial. Are these geographical variants or a true species? The “lumpers” would say there is only one species, while the “splitters” would argue there are two or more. Molecular analysis has enabled ichthyologists to solve some of these taxonomic quandaries once and for all. Such is the case with Cirrhilabrus punctatus - the finespotted fairy wrasse.

For a number of years it was thought that C. punctatus was simply a highly variable fish. It was originally described (in 1989) from Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, eastern Australia and southern Papua New Guinea (PNG). Many authors extended its range to include the northeastern coast of PNG and the Solomon Islands. Even though the color of the fish in this area differed from the original description of C. punctatus, it did have the characteristic dots on the head and body and was considered by many to simply be a color variant.

Enter the intrepid Lord of the Reef Fishes, Dr. Gerald Allen. Recently, Dr. Allen has discovered that the fish that occurs on reefs off of Milne Bay Province (Papua New Guinea), Madang (PNG), Bismarck Archipelago, and the Solomon Islands (which has often been lumped with C. punctatus) is actually a distinct species that has been dubbed Cirrhilabrus beauperryi.

Dr. Allen states the following regarding their chromatic differences:

“The two species are clearly separable on the basis of colour pattern. Terminal-phase individuals of C. beauperryi are generally purplish grading to blue ventrally and greenish or yellowish brown dorsally with a broad purple stripe along the basal half of the otherwise pale yellow dorsal fin. In contrast, terminal-phase C. punctatus are generally reddish brown to dark grey on the upper two-thirds of the head and body and abruptly white below with broad black stripes along the base of mainly red dorsal and anal fins. They also differ noticeably with respect to the colouration on the base of the pectoral fins: in C. beauperryi it is mainly violet with a narrow, inconspicuous purple bar; that of C. punctatus is prominently marked with a broad black bar. The pectoral-base marking is also useful for distinguishing initial-phase fish. The terminal phase of C. beauperryi also exhibits a unique median head profile characterized by a rounded forehead and concave interorbital region. DNA analysis reveals the two species are genetically distinct.”

This new species brings the number of fairy wrasses up to 45. It is the second most speciose group in the family Labridae behind the genus Halichoeres, which includes around 80 species.


Allen, G. R., J. Drew and P. Barber. 2008. Cirrhilabrus beauperryi, a new wrasse (Pisces: Labridae) from Melanesia. Aqua –International Journal of Ichthyology, 14: 129-140.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael


Ovibos moschatus is a formidable beast that is sometimes preyed upon by grizzly bears.Photo Credit:US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The muskox (Ovibos moschatus) is a large ungulate (the average male weight is from 273 to 364 kg [600 to 800 pounds]) equipped with curved horns and a shaggy pelage which can be up to 10 cm (4 inches) thick. It is a close relative of the sheep or goats (subfamily Caprinae) and is able to withstand incredibly frigid, arctic conditions (down to at least – 70 ºF). Muskox tend to live in herds and are famous for their defensive posturing – they often form a defensive circle with their heads (i.e., armament) facing outward toward the potential threat. Youngsters often hide amongst the adults for protection.

The barren-ground grizzly bears and muskox overlap in their distribution in northern Canada and Alaska. This shaggy beast would appear to be fairly impervious to grizzly attack. But, this is not the case. Grizzlies were originally reported feeding on muskox by early explorers and with recent reintroduction of these ungulates in parts of the Arctic, there have been a number of papers written on the predator-prey relationship of U. arctos and O. moschatus. Below I have reviewed what is known about the barren-ground grizzly predation on muskox.

Multiple Hunting Strategy

In the Thelon Game Sanctuary, grizzlies and muskox coexist, but the relationship is not always copasetic. Near the Thelon River, bears may use thick willow stands along the waterway to ambush muskox feeding on sedge in nearby clearings. Willows also attract muskox, as it is a preferred food of this beast. Gunn and Miller (1982) report finding a bear on a freshly killed, bull O. moschatus. They were able to scare the adult bear off and examine its kill and concluded that the bear had dispatched the big ungulate by first grasping its nose (crushing the nasal turbine bones and tearing off the nose in the process) and then inflicting a crippling bite to its skull. By grasping the nose, the bear may have prevented the muskox from bringing its horns to bear and also may have been more effective at throwing the animal to the ground.

In another study carried out in the northeastern Arctic slopes of Alaska, 92 grizzly-muskox interactions were observed (Reynolds et al. 2002). Fifty percent of these were known kills, 40 % were possible kills or scavenging events, and 10 % were incidents where a grizzly was seen chasing muskox. It was estimated that 16-39 % of muskox mortality was the result of bear predation. During the study period (1982-2001) the number of muskox killed by grizzly bears was zero to two deaths per year before 1993, one to four musk ox per year from 1994-1997 and five to ten deaths per year from 1998-2001. This increase in kill numbers was a function of an increase in the size of musk ox herds. An increase in kills may also be indicative of the bears learning how to better attack and take down these big, formidable animals. While solitary adult bears were most often seen attacking muskox (69 occasions), pairs or trios of adult bears were seen chasing, killing or eating these animals (three episodes). Sows with cubs or yearlings were seen interacting with muskox on three occasions.

Surplus Killing

Grizzly bears sometimes engage in surplus killing of muskox. In the study carried out by Reynolds et al. (2002) there were ten episodes where one to three bears killed from two to four adult muskox. On several occasions even more muskox were dispatched during a single hunting bout. For example, in one case five individuals (two adult females, a yearling and unsexed adult musk ox) were incapacitated by a single bear. In another case, a grizzly killed four calves and in another incident the victims were one adult female, one two-year old male and one yearling. In most cases, solitary bears were involved in these killing sprees, but in one case three grizzlies instigated the melee.

Clarkson et al. (1993) reported a fascinating case of surplus killing of muskox calves by a heterosexual pair of adult grizzlies. Within a distance of about two km, the two bears took down five young musk ox. By doing a little forensic work, the researchers were able to put together a likely picture of what had happened. Rather than form a defensive circle to try and parry the bear attacks, this herd of musk ox tried to out run the grizzlies. The researchers postulated that the calves trailed behind the adults and, therefore, were more vulnerable. The two bears chased the herd, which consisted of 40 to 50 muskox (with a minimum of eight calves). They killed the first calf and ate 90 % of the carcass. They then chased the herd down again and about 1.5-2.0 km from the first kill dispatched a second young musk ox. They ate 60 % of this second calve and began the hunt again. They killed the third calf about 300 m from the second. The third calf was about 30 % consumed by the bears and a wolverine (Gulo gulo) that was feeding on the carcass when the researchers arrived on the scene. The fourth calve was killed 400 m from the third. A golden eagle had just begun to feed on calf four when the researchers arrived. The final calf was killed about 200 m from the fourth – this last young muskox was not eaten either.


Clarkson, P. L. and I. Sarma Liepins. 1993. Grizzly bear, Ursus arctos, predation on muskox, Ovibos moschatus, calves near the Horton River, Northwest Territories. Canadian Field Nat. 107:100-102.

Gunn, A. and F. L. Miller. 1982. Muskox bull killed by a barren-ground grizzly bear, Thelon Game Sanctuary, N.W.T. Arctic 35:545-546.

Reynolds, P. E., H. V. Reynolds and R. T. Shideler. 2002. Predation and multiple kills of muskoxen by grizzly bears. Ursus 13:79-84.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Amphiprion barberi: Beqa, Fiji. Scott W. Michael.

Amphiprion melanopus: Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Scott W. Michael.

Amphiprion frenatus: pair (male in foreground), Aniloa, Philippines. Janine Cairns-Michael.

In the past month, another anemonefish has been described from Fiji. It has been given the name Amphiprion barberi. This fish has long been considered a color form of Amphiprion melanopus, an anemonefish that is known to range from Bali to the Society Islands, north to the Marianas, and south to the Great Barrier Reef and New Caledonia. But after further investigation by pomacentrid-guru, Dr. Gerald Allen, this supposed variant has been raised to species status. Here is the abstract from the publication:

Amphiprion barberi, a new species of anemonefish fish, is described from 46 specimens, 16.3-85.8 mm SL, collected at depths of 2-10 m from coral reefs of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. It is closely allied to A. melanopus, which is widely distributed in the western Pacific. The two species exhibit significant colour-pattern differences, including a mainly reddish orange body in A. barberi and dark brown or blackish body in A. melanopus. Adults of the new species also possess fewer spinules (11-19 versus 19-26) in the upper-opercular series than A. melanopus. Genetic data presented here confirms the separation of these species.


Gerald R. Allen, Joshua Drew and Les Kaufman: Amphiprion barberi, a new species of anemonefish (Pomacentridae) from Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. Aqua – International Journal of Ichthyology. 14 (3): 105-114

Photos copyright Scott W. Michael.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More on Kamchatka Brown Bears

The Kamchatka brown bears have been hungry. (Photo:

New York Times, July 24, 2008,

A Bear Menace in Russia, Where They Are Revered

By Michael Schwirtz

Russia’s bears have traditionally been a national symbol of pride and potency, mythologized in fairy tales and depicted in advertisements and on the flag of Russia’s top political party. They are as hallowed in Russia as the bald eagle is in the United States.

Today, however, Russia’s bears are on the attack.

Some thirty gigantic and ravenously hungry Kamchatka brown bears have already killed and eaten two men at a platinum mine in Russia’s Far Eastern Kamchatka region and appear to be hunting for more. People in the region have been forced to cower in their homes waiting for hunters to dispose of the animals, which can stand 10 feet tall and weigh up to 1,500 pounds.

Local officials have considered exterminating the creatures, and a group of hunters has already been dispatched to the region where most of the bears have gathered. Hunters killed at least 300 bears last year and poachers shot about 600 more illegally, the Guardian reported.
“These predators have to be destroyed,” Viktor Leushkin, a village official, told Itar-Tass. “Once they kill a human, they will do it again and again.”

The Kamchatka brown bears are massive, weighing up to 1,500 pounds, but they typically shy away from humans. Yet a sharp decline in salmon, their traditional food, due to poaching has forced them to seek out other food sources, as more and more unfortunate people have come to discover.

The wilds of Kamchatka, an ethereal region of active volcanoes and hot springs, is not the only place in Russia facing attacks by hungry bears. The Times Online reports that three people have died this year from bear attacks on near-by Sakhalin Island. Another woman was found mauled to death in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, the capital of the Kamchatka region.


Front and back cover of Volume 5.

Example of a couple of pages from the Paracheilinus, flasher wrasse, section.

OK, I admit it. I have been a bad blogger. For over a month I did not contribute to my incoherent musings. I am sorry, but I think I have a good excuse. I have been diligently working on the latest Reef Fishes volume – this one on the wrasses (family Labridae). Yes, scarids (parrotfishes) are also included in the title, but they shouldn’t be as they do not get equal coverage in this volume. I apologize to you parrotfish fans from the get go. Unfortunately, because of space limitations, I could not include comprehensive coverage of both the scarids and the labrids. Since the later group is more important to the aquarium community, and I find them more interesting, I decided to invest the bulk of the book into the wrasses. The book is actually larger than it was supposed to be. It is 400 pages (the pomacentrids book was 256 pages). Of course, the labrid family is a big one – over 600 species – so I suspected that the publishers would be willing to devote a few more pages to them. But I exceeded the proposed size by at least 50 pages. The book should be available in a couple of months - I will certainly let you know on this blog. I hope you like it. Be assured, I will be adding to the blog more regularly until the next book is nearing the due date!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Starving Bears Eat Two Men at Russian Mines

MOSCOW — A pack of enormous bears searching for food killed and ate two men at mines in Russia's Pacific Kamchatka region and have kept hundreds of geologists and miners from reaching the mine, news agencies reported Wednesday.

A pack of up to 30 Kamchatka bears—which are similar to grizzlies—prowled around two mines of a local platinum mining company where they killed the two guards on Thursday, local officials were quoted by the Russian ITAR-Tass news agency as saying.

About 400 company workers have refused to return to the mines for fear of the bears, which stand 10 feet tall on their hind legs and weigh up to 1,500 pounds, Interfax reported.

About 10 bears have also been seen near the village of Khailino sniffing fish remains and other garbage.

Village official Viktor Leushkin was quoted by ITAR-Tass as saying that a team of hunters will be dispatched to shoot or chase off the bears.

"These predators have to be destroyed," Leushkin was quoted as saying. "Once they kill a human, they will do it again and again."

Rampant fish poaching in the Kamchatka tundra often forces the bears to seek other sources of food, such as garbage. Bears frequently attack humans in the scarcely populated peninsula region.”


The article above appeared on a news website on July 24th, 2008. It characterizes the “if it bleeds, it leads” sensationalism that is common in the media, especially when it comes to large predatory animals like grizzly/brown bears.

How dangerous are the Kamchatka brown bears? If you only read the article above, and the other half-truths spewed by the media about bears, you would think the Russian bruins are naturally inclined to include Homo sapiens on their menu. But is this really the case?

Introduction to Kamchatka

The Kamchatka Peninsula, which is located in far east Russia, is 1,250 kilometers long, with an area of about 470,000 square kilometers. Human density on the peninsula is very low (just over 400,000 people), with over half of the population dwelling in two cities. As far as its geology and ecology, it is very similar to parts of Alaska (e.g., Alaskan Peninsula), boasting many volcanoes, tundra, boreal forests, sedge meadows and large rivers running to the sea – the latter serve as spawning grounds for salmonids. There are also areas on the peninsula that yield large berry crops.

The berries and the fish are an important food source for the most noteworthy member of the Kamchatka fauna - the brown bear. This animal is the same species/subspecies as the North American brown or grizzly bear. It was once referred to as Ursus arctos piscator, but has since been lumped under the U. arctos arctos subspecies moniker.

The area has one of the largest brown bear populations on earth. Estimates of population density vary. Current figures range from 3-5 bears/ per 100 square kilometers. In 1992, it was estimated that the Kamchatka region was home to 8,000 to 10,000 brown bears (Revenko, 1992).

While part of the peninsula is now classified as a nature preserve (Kronotsky Nature Preserve), poachers have killed many bears in this area to “harvest” their gall bladders. Trophy hunters also come from all around the world, and pay big money, to legally hunt these bears. One author reported that the true giants that once roamed the area are now few and far between due to legal hunting (hunters want to shoot the biggest boars) and poaching. There are a number of other external pressures impacting the Kamchatka bear population, including agricultural development, mining and road construction.

So how Dangerous?

So, back to our original question: how dangerous is the Kamchatka brown bear? Let's look at the scientific literature and what it says about these animals. Stroganov (1969) says the following about Russia’s brown bears: “The bears in the Ussuri territory and Kamchatka are usually very peaceful, and attack humans only when wounded and not always even then.” Does this sound like the bears described in the news story above, roaming in packs, hunting humans?

The late Russian bear researcher Vitaly Nikolayenko wrote the following about Kamchatka bears, “A bear instinctively fears man... A bear has two alternatives – either run away or charge you. Most often the bear runs away. Bears prefer to avoid each other because if they choose to fight, they run the risk of injury. All bears, including dominant males, avoid humans.”

Kistchinski (1972) says of the Kamchatka bears, “The brown bears in the near-Pacific regions are very peaceable and present hardly any danger to man. Apparently, their reflex to attack an animal of their own size is not developed. Only single cases of unprovoked attacks are known (mainly by bears active in winter). During the rutting time in uninhabited areas male bears are very unwary and sometimes come up straight to man or a caravan of pack horses.”

Revenko (1994) concludes that the Kamchatka brown bear “is usually a peaceful animal.” He quantified his 270 encounters with these bears and found that 70 % of the time the bear ran off, 14 % of the time the bear watched him and then walked away, 12 % of the time they were indifferent, 3 % of the time they exhibited threat behavior and in one case a sow with cub actually attacked him after he accidentally disturbed the young bear. He lists 13 “attacks” on humans: in five cases the person was killed, in three the person was injured and in five cases, the assaulted individual sustained no injuries. In his report, he breaks the data down further: in four cases the bear was suddenly encountered at a short distance, in three cases the bear had been injured by hunters, in two cases it was a sow defending its young, in one case a bear had pursued a hunting dog which ran to its owner which the bear then attacked, and in a final case a bear entered a village and killed a man in the springtime (probably the only case where the ursid was predating on a Homo sapien).

In recent times, there have been two well documented attacks in Kamchatka. In 1997, Michio Hoshino, a well-known nature photographer, was attacked and killed by a brown bear that had been exhibiting aberrant behavior (it has broken into a cabin and a helicopter to get at human food). Although the warning signs of a potentially dangerous brown bear were there and noted, Hoshino decided that he would continue to camp in a tent in an area where the ursid had been spotted rather than slumbering in a crowded cabin with other photographers. His poor judgment cost him his life.

Vitaly Nikolayenko, the Russian naturalist mentioned above, had been studying the bears in this region for over 35 years and was killed by a large, bellicose boar that he followed into thick bushes. The brown bear cuffed the Russian ursidophile once in the head, killing him, before fleeing. Vitaly’s familiarity with bears had led to reckless behavior. Notes that Vitaly had written down during his final summer of bear observation (in 2003) told of a large male brown bear (apparently the one that killed him) that had lunged at him and jaw popped when Nikolayenko moved near. He said of this bear “He is vicious and dangerous.” Even so, he kept pressing the bear just to see if he could win it over.

So, while there is no doubt that the Kamchatka brown bear must be respected and has been implicated in attacks on human, before you believe everything said in the report above about marauding packs of brown bears in the Kamchatka mines, remember that the media see the great bear through blood covered glasses!


"Кроноцкий государственный биосферный заповедник, Долина Гейзеров. Туры по Камчатке с камчатской туристической компанией". 2008.

Kistchinski, A. A. 1972. Life History of the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos L.) in North-East Siberia. In: Bears: Their Biology and Management, Vol. 2, A Selection of Papers from the Second International Conference on Bear Research and Management, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 6-9 November 1970. IUCN Publications New Series no. 23 (1972), pp. 67-73

Revenko, I. A. 1994. Brown Bear (Ursus arctos piscator) Reaction to Humans on Kamchatka. In: Bears: Their Biology and Management, Vol. 9, Part 1: A Selection of Papers from the Ninth International Conference on Bear Research and Management, Missoula, Montana, February 23-28, 1992 (1994), pp. 107-108