Wet Tropics Underwater Photography 2015-16

After leaving the Kimberley for the start of the monsoon season, it was time to head east again to the Cairns region to photograph the animals of the Wet Tropics. Here are some of the highlights:

Photographing Noah Creek 002Rabbithead cling-gobies

Lugging my underwater kit around was no easy task. It weighs about 15kg, and the rocks around the streams can be steep and slippery. But to photograph cling gobies in their natural habitat, the risks must be taken. The first species I managed to get was the Rabbithead Cling Goby (Sicyopterus lagocephalus). A large species, at around 12-15cm it is by far the most difficult to observe and photograph. Flighty and fast, they retreat immediately to rock crevices when disturbed. Females are dull brown, while males in breeding season are brilliant electric blue and black with a red tail outlined in blue. After countless sightings in the fast, rocky waters of Harvey Creek, all of which ended in the fish scooting away as soon as I was anywhere near them I managed great success. I slid like a walrus into one pool to come face to face with two fighting males on a flat rock. They were totally absorbed in their battle and did not notice my intrusion. I was close enough to fill the frame with one of them at a time, though they refused to sit still or both be seen in the open at the same time. I did get some great shots. All other attempts after that failed like the first in all of the streams we tried. They are the hardest of them all…

Rabbithead cling goby (Sicyopterus lagocephalus)

Male rabbithead cling goby (Sicyopterus lagocephalus) resting for a moment before continuing the fight with his neighbor

Rabbithead cling goby (Sicyopterus lagocephalus)

Rabbithead cling goby (Sicyopterus lagocephalus) Male displaying


Stiphodon cling gobies

Rabbitheads might be the largest, but the jewels of the stream would be the Stiphodons. Found in Southeast Asia, Melanesia and Northeastern Australia, there are a number of species. Males are often very bright while females all look relatively similar with black horizontal stripes over a light brown base colour. They get around in small schools scraping algae off the rock surfaces. Later in the wet season, males display bright colours any they spawn, the larvae being washed out to sea before returning to the streams months later.

Opal Cling goby (Stiphodon semoni)

Opal Cling goby (Stiphodon semoni)

The first species this time round was the Opal Cling goby (Stiphodon semoni). Despite being the most widespread Australian cling goby, it is one I have had trouble finding. At Ellis Beach I explored a small stream and found several of these munching away at the algae. I slid the top half of my body in and carefully took this one useful image. Outside breeding season, males become purple and when displaying become electric blue.

Red cling goby (Stiphodon rutilaureus)

Red cling goby (Stiphodon rutilaureus). Male

Red cling goby (Stiphodon rutilaureus)

Red cling goby. Female

Also just outside displaying season were the red cling gobies (Stiphodon rutilaureus) which are found in the lowermost sections of the freshwater streams. Males become brilliant red with blue cheeks when displaying.

Male Black cling goby (Stiphodon atratus)

Male Black cling goby (Stiphodon atratus)

Male Black cling goby (Stiphodon atratus)

Male Black cling goby with white patches

The most common cling goby I see in the Daintree is the Black (Stiphodon atratus). Last trip it was the only species seen. Males look fantastic while displaying. Metallic green cheeks on a dark body with electric blue fin edging they seem to display earlier than the other species.  

Smilosicyopus leprurus

Smilosicyopus leprurus

Smilosicyopus leprurus – carnivorous cling goby

This one was a bit of a surprise, and finding it was a new sighting for the creek I was in. Unlike all of the other cling gobies featured here, this species is a carnivore, taking macro invertebrates. Despite intense searching all through the stream, this is the only individual I found and the best image I could manage.

Other gobies

There are a large variety of other goby species in the Carins region’s freshwater streams. Here are some images with captions…  

Unidentified Redigobius

The spotfin goby (Redigobius biklonatus) is common in the slow leafy sections of creeks near the sea.

Flase Celebes Goby (Glossogobius illinus)

Flase Celebes Gobies (Glossogobius illinus) are the most common of all of the goby species in the coastal streams.

Roman nose goby (Awaous acritosus)

The largest of the gobies, the Roman Nosed (Awaous acritosus) is also extremely shy, darting away quickly. They grow to about 30cm.

Sleepers or Gudgeons

A number of gudgeon species live in the tropical streams of the Cairns area, but can be shy and hard to photograph.  

Brown Sleeper (Eleotris fusca)

What might be a Brown Sleeper (Eleotris fusca) peering out of his boulder home…

Snakehead Gudgeon male (Giurus margaritacea)

Snakehead Gudgeon male (Giurus margaritacea)

Well, that’s the round up of the gudgeon and goby species I found in the Wet Tropics this time around. Next post will be about the other fish species…

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