Touring Lembeh, an Island Not Frequented by Tourists

We opted out of diving on our last day in Lembeh, Indonesia. We could have squeezed in a last morning dive and still had time to decompress before our flight out of the country, but why push the limits? You may be aware that flying too closely after diving is about the equivalent to your insides as opening up a bottle of soda that has just been dropped down the stairs. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in any great hurry to drink that soda. (The recommended time between diving and flying is 18 hours if you were about to open a new tab to look that up).

So Tanja, Stefan, Fletch, and I signed up for a land tour through the resort. It would be a shame after all, to leave Indonesia without actually having seen any of Indonesia.

I mentioned before that we were staying at a relatively new and small resort, only a year and a half old with nine bungalows, and we were the only guests there for that entire time. As such, there were a few things that we were the lucky firsts to experience. One of these things was the Indonesian snack platter. We ordered this one evening whilst sitting by the pool with drinks. There was much confusion, plus a language barrier; several of the staff intermittently asked what we wanted on it, both Fletch and Tanja tried to ask for whatever it was meant to come with, and we finally ended up with a small bowl of fried veggie fritters, which were tasty but didn’t exactly represent a “platter” worth of food for four people. The next morning we received apologies and an explanation that no one had actually ordered that off the menu in the resort’s year and a half of being open.

The land tour was the next thing that I’m pretty sure no one had ever done before. In fact, at times it felt like no tourist from any of the resorts in Lembeh had ever done anything of the sort before (which you know me, I'm always keen for an adventure away from the normal tourist crowds).

The dive boat ferried us around the corner on our last morning to the neighboring village, where a safari truck picked us up. You may have run into these on your own travels, where a pickup truck has been outfitted with benches in the bed, sometimes a nice little awning. They are very practical and would never pass any safety standards for being on a road in the US.

We huddled into the back along with our Indonesian dive guide and one of the staff girls, then started winding along the dirt roads and up the lush hillsides. I had absolutely no idea that there was so much elevation to be gained in Lembeh, but we were hanging on to the rails to keep from sliding off of the benches and falling out of the truck bed. Our poor dive guide was turning green in the face, which was rather ironic given that he spent his days on boats. I guess sea sickness and car sickness are two different things.

We rumbled past numerous villages, some as big as 400 people, some only a couple shacks on the beach, which our Indonesian comrades got a good laugh out of telling us constituted an entire village. It must have been election season, because many of the villages were waving the flags of their political parties. We descended into one valley, to find a sea of red flags with bulls flying over every home, like a realm from Game of Thrones all waving their house sigils.

A picturesque village in Lembeh, Indonesia.

As we made our way around the island of Lembeh, it quickly became apparent that this was not a tourist, or even a highly developed area of Indonesia. There were no cities, no supermarkets, not even any hotels save for the few dive resorts on the Lembeh Strait side of the island. Just lush green jungle and scattered, sleepy villages. Imagine our surprise then, when the vehicle dropped us off at a replica of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue, a replica that was even taller than the original supposedly. Why did this 19 square mile island have a bigger and better version of Brazil’s most famous landmark? I don’t have a clue. I have scoured the internet and nothing is written about it (in English anyway). It was like finding a replica Eiffel Tower in a sleepy little mountain town. We wandered around the deserted statue in puzzled awe for several minutes before heading back to the truck.

Lembeh's replica of the Christ the Redeemer statue, which is taller than the one in Brazil.

The view from the Christ the Redeemer statue. 

Our next stop was a beach to go snorkeling. There was a long boardwalk to get there, and by boardwalk, I mean individual planks of wood nailed together that looked as though they had been soaking in the high tide and then drying out in the sun a few too many times over the years, and might give way at any moment. The spaces between the boards were wide enough that we had to watch our feet carefully as we walked the perilous path over mangroves.

The beach was mostly coral with lots of driftwood. It looked like a little patch of desert amongst all the jungle, and was a relaxing spot to stop and stare at the sea. Unfortunately we arrived at low tide, and it would have taken a walk halfway out to the horizon and burning to a crisp in the meantime to reach any water deep enough to snorkel. So we sat under a little thatched roof shelter and amused ourselves by watching a black digger wasp digging himself a hole in the sand to use as a trap. It mesmerized us for some time.

Driftwood on the beach in Lembeh, Indonesia. 

Some more of the Indonesian resort staff arrived out of nowhere, all smiles, eager to join the day’s adventures. Whether they wanted to tag along for the fun of it, or were sent along to take notes for future land tours I’m not sure, but the more the merrier.

With nothing else to do, we got hungry pretty quickly and said, let’s go eat. The original plan for the tour had included the resort’s kitchen packing a picnic lunch for us to eat on the beach, but Fletch had lovingly requested that we go eat somewhere local, knowing I wouldn’t be happy leaving the country until sampling the Indonesian cuisine (and something besides resort food, as good as it was).

I know a lot of people visit Lembeh for the diving, but I was beginning to think that not many tourists before us had ventured out of their resorts, because all of the locals as we got closer to “town” were waving at us and staring at us like we were celebrities. My suspicions were further confirmed when we discovered that there really wasn’t a local restaurant on the island to go to. We pulled up to a roof covering several stalls. A couple of them were miniature convenience stores. Some had fold out tables with buffets of a few dishes set up, covered in tents to keep the flies at bay. A few plastic tables and chairs were crammed into the empty spaces. One of the plastic tables was hurriedly cleared off, and we were told to help ourselves, so help ourselves we did.

The selection was much like the selection we had been served at the first resort: lots of curries, a few meat dishes, a few veggie dishes, and rice. None of the nasi goreng that Fletch had been talking about since Bali. The food was excellent though. There was an eggplant dish that I had to go back for seconds of because the flavors in the sauce were so lovely together with the eggplant. The food outside the tourist realm is always the the most flavorful. I guess there’s a reason they don’t normally serve it to tourists though. Stefan was polite enough to wait until that night to inform us of the maggots hiding at the bottom of his fish.

Tickled at seeing white people dining with the locals, an Indonesian lady a table over was filming us on her smart phone for several minutes as we ate. Tanja was the first one to get up the nerve to ask her to please stop. After lunch, a dude approached us to ask if we’d take a picture with him. We hesitantly agreed, and then he proceeded to pull out his political poster for the red bull party (which I looked up, and represents the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle). In unison, we all said ‘No no no!’ I don’t even involve myself with politics in my own country. No way am I supporting an unknown foreign political party in a predominantly Islamic, underdeveloped nation, in an area of the world where corruption runs rampant. That was harsh, but who knows what we would unknowingly be supporting. The man was still happy to put the poster down and take the picture without it, although he did manage to throw up his political gang sign at the last moment. Then the rest of the locals in the little eating area wanted photos as well.

Pretty sure that we were the first white people to eat at this lady's food stall.

We crouched back into the truck, and continued down the road to Monumen Trikora, a spot we had dived off of several days before. We had seen mandarin fish under the water, and an old plane on display up the hill. We had absolutely no idea what the place was, and none of our guides knew enough English to explain. We wandered around what looked like a multi-story war monument. The place had not been maintained, and was littered with trash. Sculpted war murals were peeling off the concrete walls, painted murals by school kids were fading, and the area surrounding the plane had turned into a picnic ground for events.

War murals at Monumen Trikora, Lembeh

Part of a structure at Monumen Trikora, Lembeh 

Monumen Trikora, Lembeh

An old war plane on display.

A giant, painted tarsier statue. 

A lady in an official looking uniform approached me with her phone as Fletch and I were staring up at the plane. She didn’t speak any English, but seemed to be asking for something with her phone. Not knowing what else to do, Fletch took a photo of the two of us.

Hope I wasn’t breaking any rules ma’am. Here, have a photo; everyone else seems to want one today.

After we had wandered around and failed to learn anything about the ruined structures, we returned to the truck which brought us to the village of one of the staff girls. She introduced it as Pintukota Kecil, or “Door to the Small City.” It was a breathtaking little village that looked as though it had been cut out of a cliff. Sheer rock walls surrounded all sides except for the shoreline. The quiet made it feel as though we were stepping on sacred ground, and we moved cautiously as if entering a library.

She lead us over to the church, and allowed us to enter. It had pretty stained glass windows and a ship at the front. Someone outside was planting a garden. She explained that for Easter, everyone in the village would compete to have the nicest garden. We walked down the village to the shoreline where she pointed out a garden on the opposite cliffside. That was hers. I felt like she was showing us something very personal. She lead us through the entire village except to the corner where she lived. Fletch’s joke about meeting her mom must have made the shy girl rethink showing her home to a bunch of foreign strangers.

Church in Pintukota Kecil village, Lembeh

The ship bow at the front of the church.

A grasshopper on an eggplant. 

Our guide's Easter garden on the hillside. 

It was springtime, and all the dogs and cats and chickens had just given birth, and so there were puppies and kittens and chicks happily roaming the entire village. It was a lot of cuteness for such a quiet village, and we stopped many times to play with all the fur babies. It was a little bubble of utopia, this quiet village in the cliffs, cut off from the rest of the world and filled with puppies and kittens. Time seemed to stop there for a moment, and the chaos of the world ceased to exist. It was almost hard to say goodbye when our guide led us back to the truck to bring us back to the resort.

The truck dropped us off a final time, not in the neighboring village but at the top of the hill where the resort was located. We began the trek down the hill and spotted a small snake along the way. The train of local staff behind us simultaneously shrieked and jumped a foot in the air, running frantically back up the hillside, shrieking and laughing at themselves as they went. We all had a good laugh. Luckily Fletch, being a snake person, was able to reassure everyone that it wasn’t dangerous or anything to be afraid of, just a small constrictor. Plus it already had a gecko halfway down its throat, and once down, it is extremely difficult for a snake to spit out what it is eating.

The next morning the four of us donned our field trip t-shirts for one final laugh, and bade the wonderful staff farewell. Thank you to everyone at both Thalassa Dive Resorts for a fantastic vacation! It was fabulous to experience the world's capital of muck diving, which surpassed all of my expectations, and to finally get our own dive holiday where we weren't the ones in charge. What a welcome treat!

Farewell, Thalassa Dive Resort!

The Elusive Ghost Pipefish and the Purple Crab Who Lived in the Purple Sea Anemone

I've had the remainder of my blog posts on Indonesia sitting in the drafts folder for far too long now collecting dust. Don't ask me why. I guess I was hoping I could come up with something cheekier to say about the last of the little critters in my photos. But there really isn't all the much written about these sea-dwelling creatures, not compared to the widely adored seahorse or the fiercely fascinating mantis shrimp anyway. So I'll just throw the last of my photos at you with a tidbit of information or two.

This is the ghost pipefish. Little is known about them besides that they look super cool, which is really what it's all about. While they may look quite eye-catching in photos, they are anything but that on the reef. These masters of disguise can perfectly camouflage themselves in with various marine crinoids and algae, and only grow to be about six inches.

Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)

Juveniles are mostly transparent, and float along in the open blue, being swept along in the ocean currents. If they survive long enough to find a reef, they settle down and find a partner and make little baby ghost pipefish. Although they belong to the same order as seahorses, it is the female that carries the eggs amongst these fish. It is believed that after reproducing, ghost pipefishes will return to the open blue, never to be seen again, much like their ghostly namesake.

Ghost pipefish are capable of changing color, and sex, although the latter has only been observed in aquarium settings, so it is unknown if this practice is common in the wild, or just something they do out of boredom while sitting in a glass box all day.

Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)

This species is mostly found amongst feather stars, where they look just like another feathery arm. While they will change color to blend in with their surroundings, it has also been noted that pairs will often try to match colors with each other, much like Chinese honeymooners who wear matching t-shirts.

Here you see see a closeup of a feather star. It might not even be obvious right away that there is a little fish hiding amongst the feathers. 

Better contrast of the same ornate ghost pipefish. 

Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)

This species is usually found amongst seagrass and algae due to its leafy appearance. Unlike the ornate, these guys are a little more American in that they run and change as soon as they notice they put on the same shirt as their partner. 

This really just looks like a bit of seagrass floating over the bottom. Can you make out the fish? 

A beautiful, off-white variation of the robust ghost pipefish. 

Harlequin Swimming Crab (Lissocarcinus laevis) 

I love this little purple crab, in his little purple sea anemone. There are no remarkable facts or tidbits about this guy other than the usual crabby stuff (did you know that some crabs have teeth in their stomachs?). But he has a stellar knack for color coordination.

This little fellow is about the size of a pea and his shrimp friend, a lima bean. 

He has such great taste in color! 

That's it for the critters I'm afraid! I hope you've enjoyed getting to know the animals under the sea that aren't the usual shark and turtle suspects. I have one more post about Lembeh coming, though a land based one, and then it's on to the next adventure! 

Hippocampi - The Etymology of Seahorses You Never Wanted to Know, and Some Other Random Facts

Did you know that the male seahorse is the member of the couple that gives birth? They’re quite unique that way in the animal kingdom. I meant to have some fun facts like that ready to go for you, but instead ended up geeking out on words, so bear with me here for a second. Or skip down to the numbered list below if you don’t share my enthusiasm for completely random (and probably useless) linguistics trivia.

Seahorses, funny looking things that they are, belong to the genus Hippocampus. This word originally comes from the Greek hippos, or “horse,” and kampos, or “sea monster.” Or perhaps it comes from the related word kampe, for “caterpillar.” Sea monsters and caterpillars are easy things to confuse. I could see how this could get mixed up.

In Greek mythology, the Hippokampos is a sea monster, with the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a fish (or perhaps a sea monster or perhaps a caterpillar). So you can see how the tiny, adorable seahorse, which resembled this fearsome carriage-drawing, aquatic creature of the gods, came to be called by a Latin derivation of the same name. So now that the Greek word has been stolen by Latin, it becomes correct to pluralize hippocampus into hippocampi. (Otherwise, Greek-derived words such as “octopus” never get pluralized to “octopi.” That’s a Latin thing.)

Fletch checking out a seahorse in Lembeh, Indonesia. 

There’s another puzzle piece here that you’re probably trying to work out in your head. Isn’t the hippocampus a part of the brain? It is! And it was discovered by Julius Caesar Aranzi in 1587 who said it resembled, you guessed it, a seahorse. So there you have it, all the useless etymology behind seahorses that you never wanted to know. Have I bored you to tears yet? Fine, then we’ll talk about dudes laying eggs.

1. The dudes don’t actually lay the eggs.

Females produce the eggs and then deposit anywhere between 50-1500 of them (depending on the species) into the male’s pouch (called a ‘brood pouch’) for fertilization, via a special tube called an ‘ovipositor.’ The male then carries and cares for the eggs, allowing the female to produce more eggs right away in order to speed up the reproduction process. The male carries the eggs anywhere from ten days to six weeks (depending on the species), and then gives live birth to dozens or even hundreds of baby seahorses, called ‘fry.’ These fry are completely independent and go off on their merry way into the blue.

2. Seahorses are fond of dancing.

When a seahorse lady finds a potential partner, she greets him daily. This greeting consists of changing colors, swimming with the seahorse version of holding hands, which is linking tails, and swimming in circles around each other. These greetings can last for hours, every day. When they feel good and bonded and are ready to make little fry, the daily greetings become a courtship dance that lasts anywhere from hours to even days.

Seahorses, of which there are 40-55 species depending on whom you ask, are difficult to determine the species due to their ability to change colors. 

3. …And are terrible swimmers.

While seahorses may be expert dancers, they are arguably the worst-swimming fish in the ocean. They are fish, due to the fact that they have gills and fins, but those fins are about as useful as Nemo’s right fin. Seahorses propel themselves via a small fin on their back that is capable of fluttering up to 35 times per second. They steer with the even smaller pectoral fins behind their gills where a person’s ears would be. Does this sound exhausting? Because it is, and seahorses can easily die of fatigue. (I guess we saved that seahorse’s life that was tumbling down the sandy slope in Manado!)

Here is a closeup of a pretty seahorse face and you can still barely make out the little fin behind her gills.

4. Seahorses have very few natural predators, but spend lots of time themselves eating.

Crabs enjoy a tasty seahorse every now and again, but for the most part, they are too bony and indigestible for most marine animals to eat. You may be wondering now what seahorses eat, and that is a great question, because they have very interesting eating habits. Seahorses suck up foods such as plankton and teeny tiny fish through their nose straws from as far away as 3 cm (which is quite a ways when you're the size of a seahorse). Due to the facts that they have no teeth and no stomach, and food passes through their digestive systems fairly quickly, seahorses must eat almost constantly to stay alive.

5. But that doesn’t mean that they live without threat.

Crabs eating seahorses are just part of the circle of life. The main threat to their existence comes from a certain land-dwelling monster.

An estimated 150 million seahorses are plucked out of the ocean every year for use in traditional Chinese medicine. They are believed to help with everything from impotence, to wheezing, nocturnal enuresis, pain, and labor induction. Now granted they are named after mythical beasts, and so those who hopefully believe in the fantasies of magical cures might be inclined to think that eating a seahorse would have mystical healing properties. Let me tell you a little secret though. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Leave the poor seahorses alone.

An estimated one million seahorses are boiled out in the sun to die and become souvenirs every year in the curio trade. Unless you are the kind of creep who has a secret collection of dead animals in the closet, don’t buy these souvenirs and contribute to the demand for them.

Another estimated million seahorses are fished out of the ocean every year for the aquarium trade. While they are extremely cute and adorable, and resemble tiny versions of ancient Greek mythical monsters, it is estimated that less than 1000 survive more than six weeks in captivity. So unless your aquarium keeping skills are at a master, black-belt level, don’t experiment with endangered critters. Stick to the goldfish.

If I hide my tail in the sand, maybe no one will take me. 

6. Seahorses have unique features.

I’d hate to leave you on a depressing note, and so enjoy this last little tidbit. Seahorses have unique markings. The crown, called a ‘coral net,’ is different on each seahorse. That’s right, just like your favorite Disney princesses, seahorses each have a unique little crown that they wear. Except they wear theirs permanently. I’m suddenly wishing I had the artistic skills to draw all the Disney princesses as seahorses. Why not? They’ve been artistically reimagined in every other form it seems. If you have some mad artistic skills, send me your best seahorse drawing!

Yes, I have shown this same seahorse from Lembeh three times. She was very photogenic.

Meet the Mighty Mantis Shrimp - The Death Rainbow of the Ocean

One of the most remarkable creatures beneath the surface of the ocean is the mantis shrimp, which isn't actually a mantis or a shrimp. (It belongs to an order called stomatopoda). This incredible crustacean has what is thought to be the most complex set of eyes in the animal kingdom, can punch with the same velocity as a .22 caliber rifle, and is being studied to create stronger and lighter armor for military use. If those facts don't distract you from the cat video on your Facebook feed, then read no further, I've got nothing for you.

The beautiful, infamous, Peacock Mantis (Odontodactylus scyllarus)

If you've decided to stick around, then enjoy these fun facts about nature's own kaleidoscope demon. Or maybe it's a superhero. I'll let you decide.

1. Eyes That Can See Things We Can't Even Comprehend. 

Mantis shrimps have the most complex visual system ever discovered. Let's start with their color photoreceptors. Humans have three sets of color receptive cones, that allow us to see the colors red, green and blue. Birds, reptiles, and many fish have a fourth that detects ultraviolet light. Mantis shrimp have 12-16!

The eyes of a Tiger Mantis (Lysiosquilla maculata), peeping up from his burrow in the sand. Don't those eyes just look as though they can see everything in the universe? 

2. And Yet They're Not as Adept at Differentiating Between Colors.

These 16 photoreceptors have led many to believe that mantis shrimp can see an infinitely greater number of colors than the ones found in even your most elaborate paint deck, but researchers have discovered that you and I are still better at differentiating between subtle hues. Check out this article by National Geographic for an example of the colors we can differentiate between vs. the ones a mantis shrimp can. (Although I'm embarrassed to admit the blue hues looked the same to me).

3. They Have Trinocular Vision.

That means that each eye can individually gauge depth and distance on its own, by focusing on objects with three separate regions.

Another example of Tiger Mantis eyes periscoping up out of the sand. These guys can grow to be 16 inches!

4. So What Do Those Eyes Do? 

The short answer is, despite all the information out there, we still don't know the full potential of a mantis shrimp's optic abilities. It is believed that they absorb visual information into their brains all at once without processing it, allowing for quicker reaction times. They are also the first animal to be discovered that exhibits a visual system that can see a special spiraling type of light called circularly polarized light. This is now getting a bit more scientific than I had intended, but if that floats your boat, you can read more about it here. 

5. Mantis Shrimps Can See Cancer Cells.

One benefit to being able to detect polarized light is that mantis shrimps can detect cancer, even before symptoms appear. This is because polarized light reflects differently between cancerous cells and healthy tissue. This superhero-like ability is helping scientists to develop cameras to detect cancer. 

Keel Tail Mantis (Odontodactylus cultrifer). This guy just looks like a mystical, Eastern healer, capable of curing cancer via reiki and singing Kumbaya. 

6. They Can Communicate in Secret Codes. 

The ability to see polarized light has another advantage: communication. Mantis shrimps can not only see polarized light, but can manipulate it as well. It turns out that they bounce polarized light off of their feeing appendages, called maxillipeds, in order to communicate with each other in secret light codes. Read more on the science behind that here. 

7. Smashers Vs. Spearers.

There are hundreds of different species of mantis shrimps (the number is somewhere between 350 and 500 depending on which source you refer to). These are usually clumped into two different varieties. Smashers have blunt raptorial appendages, also called dactyl clubs, used for bludgeoning their prey to bits. This makes eating crabs, lobsters, and other shellfish, a much easier task than it is for you and me. Spearers have long raptorial appendages with barbed tips for stabbing their prey.

8. That Gunshot Statistic You Probably Read Somewhere Before. 

Smashers, namely the infamous peacock mantis shrimp, can accelerate their dactyl clubs with the same velocity as a gunshot from a twenty-two caliber rifle. They can strike prey with 1500 Newtons of force in less than three-thousandths of a second. If human beings could accelerate our arms at 1/10th of that speed, we'd be able to throw a baseball into orbit (according to The Oatmeal). If we could punch with that much force relative to our own weight, we'd be able to punch through steel (according to Fact Animal).

A keel tail mantis harassing Fletch's harassment stick. You can actually hear the impact! Scroll to the bottom to see the video.

9. Supercavitation and Sonoluminescence.

The incredible speed of a smasher's movement actually causes the water around them to boil. Actually, boil is an understatement; the temperature is nearly as hot as the sun. The collapse of these bubbles causes a shockwave that can kill prey even if the mantis misses his shot, a phenomenon known as supercavitation. All of this produces sparks of light, called sonoluminescence.

10. A Subject of Military Research. 

Mantis shrimps can deliver 1000 punches between molts. How do they deliver such deadly blows, and so repeatedly, without injuring themselves? This question is helping researchers to develop new composite materials to create better body armors, car frames, and aircraft panels.

11. Romantic Tendencies Despite the Violent Abilities. 

Despite their murderous tendencies, mantis shrimps can actually be quite the romantics. Some species are known to engage in the rare practice of social monogamy. They will choose one partner with whom to share food, shelter, and raise offspring over the course of a lifetime. This allows them to live a relatively sedentary lifestyle, away from predators, because deep down, they're really just beautiful little homebodies.

12. If You Like WebComics... 

...then you simply must check out these hilarious and completely factual illustrations by The Oatmeal (the creator of Exploding Kittens). One day I'll get around to having a poster framed for the wall. It's that great. (Or maybe I'm just that much of a nerd).

13. If You Like Comedy Skits and Nature Documentaries

...then this is the video for you. 

Finally, I'll leave you with my own video of a keel tail mantis shrimp (the same one from the photo above) attacking Fletch's pointy metal stick. If you turn the volume up, you can actually hear the impact. After failing to crack open the metal stick, he turned around and started going after Tanja's camera lens. Quite understandably, she backed away to protect her lens. The other noises you hear are Fletch laughing, and the zoom function on my camera. (I never claimed to be an expert videographer).

So what do you think? Colorful assassin or aquatic superhero? Drop a comment!

The Curious Life of a Sex-Changing Ribbon Eel

I wrote a dozen different (failed) attempts at a (not-so) humorous intro, tying this little fellow in with a current topic of debate, but they all made me cringe, and so I'll just cut straight to the chase here.  It just so happens that there are many cases of changing sex amongst marine organisms. One of these examples is found in the beautiful and elegant ribbon eel, so named because when free-swimming, it looks like the rippling ribbon of a rhythmic gymnast.

As hypnotizing as they are, it is incredibly rare to see ribbon eels free-swimming. They are usually burrowed down in the sand or rubble, with only their heads protruding, not much larger than a jumbo straw. They become very attached to their hidey-holes, and have been known to stay put for months or even years. Disrupt one though, and it will quickly search out a new abode.

We used to have a juvenile ribbon eel that lived in the rubble of the site of our famous shark dive back in Fiji. It was a terrible place for him to live, because divers from all shops would come and sit on the rubble to watch the sharks. It was the only time we condoned sitting on the bottom. Mr. Ribbons would inevitably find a nice little hole in the rubble to settle into, until enough people found his spot, causing him to move somewhere new. It became a game to find the little black ribbon eel. He never moved very far.

Ribbon eels are unique in that they not only change sex as they mature, but color as well. All of them are born male, and as juvenile males, they are pitch back. As they begin to mature, they develop a yellow dorsal fin.

A juvenile ribbon eel begins his life completely black.
(Rhinomuraena quaesita)

Then, as they grow into adulthood, they become vibrant blue with the same yellow dorsal fin. Scientists used to think that the different colors were different species of ribbon eel, and have only recently discovered that ribbon eels are in fact sequential protandrous hermaphrodites (sequential hermaphrodites = organisms that switch from one sex to another; protandrous = first male then female). All blue ribbon eels are adult males.

The blue ribbon eels are adult males. (Rhinomuraena quaesita)

Towards the end of their 20-year lifespan, ribbon eels undergo their final transformation and turn from male to female, and from blue to yellow. The female will then lay her eggs and die within a month. Because of this, it is very rare to see one in yellow form, and we were incredibly lucky to find all three stages of life when diving in Lembeh.

Finally, ribbon eels become yellow females for their last month(s) of life.
(Rhinomuraena quaesita)

As curious and hypnotizing as these critters may be, I must ask you to please not attempt to raise one in an aquarium. A quick Google search shows that you can buy one online for $100. In captivity, they usually stop eating and die within a month though. If you really think they are that cool, let them live out their natural 20 years in the wild.