Hamlet Update

Spawning hamlets Ned DeLoach BlennyWatcher.com
Butter Hamlets spawning

Ever since I attended REEF’s free online Fishinar about hamlets, presented by talented instructor/photographer Jonathan Lavan (his Underpressure photo blog ) I’ve intended to read up on the latest about hamlets. They are one of my other favorite groups of fishes (it’s not always about blennies) so I thought I’d share. Hamlets are a genus of small reef fish in the seabass family Serranidae found in western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters. The first time we ever saw them spawn, Ned and I were on a liveaboard REEF field survey in Roatan. It was 1995 and we had just started serious work on our Reef Fish Behavior book.  There were a couple of published accounts of their spawning behavior including the Bulletin of Marine Science publication of  “Speciation in the Serranid Fish Hypoplectrus” by Michael Domeier and we resolved to see it and photograph it for ourselves.  Roatan turned out to be the perfect place to concentrate on hamlets because there were so many species there. Ned wrote about our observations of hamlet spawning bouts in our 1996 Ocean Realm Magazine column and we republished a shortened version, along with the photo above in our 2007 Encounters column in Scuba Diving Magazine. Since those were pre-PDF days, I have scanned both articles and loaded them here and here if you want to read the detailed descriptions. I just reloaded the video I created back then here:

Every year for the past ten, we have spent the month of September in Bonaire as Buddy Dive’s resident naturalists, where we give talks about marine life behavior. Ned likes to joke about “Anna’s trained hamlets” because once I have located a few spawning pairs, I can usually give directions to the exact gorgonian or coral head where the hamlets will spawn each evening. Spawning hamlets are great subjects for photographers because they spawn almost every evening, can be easily approached and don’t appear to be disturbed by divers as long as we don’t block the path to their favored spawning site. They don’t care for video lights, so I use a low-power beam and wait until the fish start their spawning clasp to switch them on. Over many successive evenings, dedicated voyeurs can follow the exploits of egg-trading pairs, including break-up dramas instigated by homewrecking third parties.

Hamlet photographers Anna DeLoach BlennyWatcher.com arrow
At twilight, spawning hamlets provided quite a peep show (video frame capture)

There was a long-running debate about whether hamlets such as the Butter, Yellow-tail or Shy Hamlets are all separate species or whether they are color morphs of the same species. For now, they continue to be cataloged as separate species. Recently, in 2011, the Tan Hamlet was finally formally described and named, Hypoplectrus randallorum and an iridescent blue hamlet from Belize, that looks very much like the Blue Hamlet (known only from Florida), was formally described and named the Maya Hamlet, Hypoplectrus maya (Zootaxa, “A review of the Caribbean hamlets (Serranidae, Hypoplectrus) with description of two new species” by Phillip S. Lobel). In 2012, DNA results showed that the unusual color morphs of the Barred Hamlets that had been recorded from the Yucatan and Gulf of Mexico are separate species. Those, the Contoy Hamlet (Hypoplectrus ecosur) and Florida Barred Hamlet (Hypoplectrus floridae), were recently described by Dr. Ben Victor in his paper in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation, 2012, vol 5,  available (click here) online. Dr Bruce Carlson also has some video of H. ecosur on his YouTube channel:   www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-T1wU-Wu3k

Hamlets remain among our favorite reef fishes and it is fun to know that there are more to add to my target list – of the four recently described, I’ve only seen one – so I have more happy hunting ahead! ~ Anna DeLoach