23 March 2010

Smooth flutemouth (Fistularia commersonii): long mouthed bigeye

This is Fistularia commersonii, the smooth flutemouth. It looks like an amalgam of the needlefish (family Belonidae), the trumpetfish (Aulostomidae) and pipefish (Syngnathidea). It seems a bit prehistoric with its elongated body, long mouth and very big eyes.

Last January my wife and I were on a diving and snorkeling holiday at Kandooma, the South Male atoll of the Maldives. The last day we went snorkeling we took off with a boat to the 'house reef'. Before we left the jetty I saw a few strange, big-eyed elongated creatures hiding under it. So after this trip I went snorkeling under the pier. The water was a bit murky, but I could see the flutemouths making their appearance.

When it was light they were quite shy. After dark they were not as shy as I expected. They didn't seem to be bothered by my appearance and the flashlight.

The smooth flutemouth has a few other names: the reef or bluespotted cornetfish, the coronet and the gladde fluitbek (in Afrikaans, which is a kind of my native language).

Its common length is 100 cm, like the specimens I saw and photographed, but it reaches 160 cm. Its tailfin has a long filament. This filament is lined with sensory pores, which may serve as a long range sensory system for detecting prey.

The flutemouth hunts fish and small invertebrates, like crustaceans, squid and cuttlefish. It is active day and night. Litlle Red Riding Hood: 'Why do you have those big eyes? To see better in the dark....'

Its beak looks big but has a small finish. I am sure the flutemouth sucks its prey with a gigantic force into its mouth, snapping its prey in two. Just like pipefish do. This snapping sound of a relative small pipefish is easily heard. I would love to hear the snapping sound of the flutemouth! Hence its name?

© www.aquamaps.org

Look at the map fot its distribution. Not to be seen in this map: the flutemouth has made its appearance in the Mediterranean. It is a so called Lessepsian species: a species that has made its entrance in the Mediteranean through the Suez canal.

A few websites with information about this species (click on it for a direct link):