Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fiji 2013 | The Fiji Dental Plan

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in Spring 2012

Today's post about cleaning stations and comes from the Aquarium's curator of fishes Steve Bailey.

It’s important to get regular teeth cleanings. This Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition saw most of the first timers get their teeth cleansed of their most recent meal and maybe some left over mainland plaque by an industrious cleaner shrimp species called the scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis). And imagine, there was no co-pay!

He's got shrimp in his teeth. Don gets a cleaning from Lysmata amboinensis, and at an even better price than the Canadian health care system can muster. Dive site: Tetons, Namena Marine Reserve (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

So how hard is it to get a shrimp to clean your teeth? You'd be surprised. If you are a fish, just behave yourself, and good care will be provided. If you are a diver, a bit tougher, but more on that later.   Visiting cleaning stations like those at the dive site named Tetons, Namena Marine Reserve has become standard diving fare in Fiji. Selected species of both fishes and invertebrates will very visibly and boldly provide a much needed tune-up for larger fishes. And on occasion, these busy ‘service stations’ are strategically placed near major fish thoroughfares, much the same way that rest stops/service areas are easy on, easy off for an interstate highway.

The scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp is one of those prominent cleaner species. They predictably occupy the same locations at the same dive sites, year after year. These guys are some of our favorite critters.

A shrimp perches on Lauren's upper lip to get good angle on the remaining birthday cake crumbs.
Dive site: Tetons, Namena Marine Reserve (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

This species, as well as several others, are well known to divers and reef hobbyists alike for the services they provide to reef fishes needing dead skin, external parasites, and even parasites within the gill chamber, plucked, picked or otherwise pulled off. The 1.5-inch max sized scarlet skunk shrimp are easy to spot, not only for their aesthetic exquisiteness, but for their harried industriousness.  Darting back and forth into their refugium, waving their antennae wildly (presumably to advertise their services), leaping on and off of host animals needing attention, they can’t help but catch your eye.

Skunk cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Lonnie Huffman)

Once our intrepid Fiji team finds their clearly advertised station, a diver is simply to hold their breath, remove their regulator, open wide and hold still (It tickles big time!!) to let these fastitious and skilled technicians go to work. Once back on board, the divers eagerly shared their experience and flashed their now sparkling pearly whites at the rest of us. They all collectively agreed they had a great story for the next appointment with the dental hygienist and, of course, the photos to prove it. I suppose being a NAI’A Dive Master means you don’t need to floss as often as us landlubbers!

Allan shares the last of his secret Lindt Chocolate stash with his hygenist.
Dive site: Tetons, Namena Marine Reserve (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

Dive Master Mo is diving this site 20 to 30 times a year. He and this shrimp are on a first name basis!
Dive site: Tetons, Namena Marine Reserve (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

Of course, these shrimp aren't the only species that are reliable cleaners. Another post is coming up shortly with more about one of our other favorite cleaners: The bluestreak wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus).

Plus, be sure to see all the cleaners at the Aquarium on your next visit. Look for porkfish, the juveniles of two species of Bodianus hogfish and three species of angelfishes and, lastly, the oceanops neon gobies in the Giant Ocean Tank. There are also cleaner species in the Yawkey Coral Reef Center, the blue hole exhibit on Level 2, the IndoPacific Coral Reef Exhibit on Level 1, and in the live coral exhibits on Level 1 and in the West Wing.


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