The Combtooth Blenny Family – Blenniidae
The Combtooth Blennies or Blenniidae Family are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as borrachos. They are found in the tropical and subtropical marine waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. The family has three hundred ninety-eight different species placed in fifty-eight genera, of which eighteen are found in Mexican waters, twelve in the Atlantic and six in the Pacific.
The Combtooth Blennies have slender elongated bodies with the largest being 54 cm (21 inches); most, however, are less than 15.0 cm (5.9 inches). They are named for their single row of comb-like, slender, and close-set teeth. The Sabertooth Blennies, also members of this family, have canine teeth as well. The Combtooth Blennies exhibit a wide variety of uniform colors as well as spots, stripes, or bands, with some species exhibiting two or three color patterns for courting and mating. Cryptic coloring is widespread. Their heads have a steep forehead with a blunt snout, broad lips, and eyes set high on the head, and are typically adorned with prominent tentacles or cirri with a small mouth than opens ventrally that is not protractile. Their anal fin has an elongated base with two spines; their dorsal fins also have elongated bases with three to 17 spines and 9 to 119 rays; their pectoral fins have one spine and two to 4 rays; and their pelvic fins are anterior of the pectoral fins with one short embedded spine and two to 4 rays. They have smooth skin and no scales.
The Combtooth Blennies are primarily bottom-dwellers found in shallow coastal rocky intertidal areas, coral reefs, mangroves, oyster beds, and in brackish waters of rivers that empty into the sea. The Sabertooth Blennies are, however, free-swimming. They feed on benthic organisms including algae and invertebrates with some being planktivores. Many Combtooth Blennies exhibit sexual dimorphism with males being larger than females and some males having larger heads than females. They also vary in body colorations with males being brighter colored and changing colors during breeding season. The cirri on their head are different and their anal spines can take different forms in male and females. Males are highly territorial and will defend their habitat against intruders many times their size. Reproduction occurs year-round and is oviparous with females being attracted by males. They lay their eggs in small holes or crevices within tidal pool reef structure where they are guarded by the males or both parents. The eggs are demersal and attach themselves to the substrate. The larvae are planktonic. Young fish are pelagic and look very different from their parents; they are then required to fend for themselves. Each male will mate with several females.
The Combtooth Blennies have a secretive lifestyle hiding in crevices and holes in the bottom of inshore waters. In general, they are poorly studied and very little is known about their behavioral patterns. They are however very conspicuous within the shallow water reef community having interesting traits including mimicry and the ability to hop over terrestrial rocks (rock hoppers) from pool to pool as a defense strategy. They also can change color to blend into their surroundings. There is currently very limited information available about the lifespans of the blenniids. They date to the upper Tertiary and upper Miocene Periods, approximately 5 million years ago.
The Combtooth Blennies are too small to be of interest to most. They are a by-catch caught in fish and lobster traps and in coastal trawls. A few Blennies are used by the aquarium trade but on a limited basis.
There are six members of the Combtooth Blenny Family currently presented in this website:
Barnaclebill Blenny, Hypsoblennius brevipinnis
Bay Blenny, Hypsoblennius gentilis
Notchfin Blenny, Entomacrodus chiostictus
Panamic Fanged Blenny, Ophioblennius steindacheri
Rockpool Blenny, Hypsoblennium gilberti
Sabertooth Blenny, Plagiotremus azaleus