Peas in a pod: Pharaonic fish and flash fatcats

According to  the people who filmed these tilefish back in 2003, this species had till then remained undescribed by scientists. Once again I’ve been too slow off the mark, because I described this fish in 2001. I can’t find the original video with the associated claim, but here’s some excellent footage of tilefish and their mounds.

I’ve been known to brag about having already been there and done that, years ahead of my time way back when (e.g. see “Chronicle of an urban drowning foretold”). Today it’s time for a new brag: Here’s something I noted in a dive log from a Mergui Archipelago trip back in May 2001. The main point is the tilefish pyramid sighting (I add the rest only as background and to show how rich the marine life was).

Unnamed reef just north of G.W. Torres

dive (24 May) Breaking waves at surface. Down to 60 feet. Interesting topography, rocky ravines with staghorn thickets in bottoms, big fans on walls. A wall, boulders, down to sand. A couple of 2.5m sharks, prob. gray reef sharks. Several blue-spotted rays, a very big lobster. A few big groupers. Saw four different sea urchin species within a small area (black long-spined, little blue-and tan jewel boxes, whiteish porcupine quills, and a pencil urchin). As I waited for pickup, spotted a pink jellyfish with 2-3m tentacles and little fish seeking protection among them.

Same reef, but on the outside (western side)

dive (24 May) The deep V cove where we anchored for lunch has a vast area of coral heads set in vivid turquoise water. Fine first-growth forest on both sides, tall whiteish trunks, high canopy. It’s been sunny all afternoon, with cirrus and haze on horizons. The point of the cove, on the left as you go out — same side as the unnamed reef — is a jumble of Similans-style granite boulders. The whole shore along that side, out of the cove, is boulders. Also between shore and reef. About 26m of water. At low tide, the reef breaks at about 1.5m. Lots of boulder diving. In 14-20m shallows coming up, a good surge, caves and swim-throughs for “bouldering”. A big electric blue crown-of-thorns, another big grouper (0.75-1m long), sea snake, Hawksbill turtle (Bonnie touched it after Graham spooked it and it swam right into her), a tuna, lots of reef fish (lots) in shallow sunlit waters.

Tilefish (blue, 10”), in pairs — mound-builders at 25m. One fish book gives a related species a range of 30-115m. Different books mention different species, one bigger, one smaller.  The biggest mound (coral bits/rubble) was about 12’x8’x3’ high. That one was also topped with a smooth, regular crater like a little volcano. On some of the mounds you could see the entry/exit hole. One of a pair swam into one while I watched; the other stayed outside.Good corals.

Dougal, who got separated from the rest of us, claimed a shovel-nosed ray. We left the reef unnamed.

And some field notes from surface

On the boat later, I observe a well-endowed fellow diver display herself in a silvery bikini. Meanwhile a diver dude appears set to out-display this vision. He’s wearing a psychedelic wetsuit fit to give me a headache and top-of-the-line gear including outsized fins that could mark him as an aspiring Olympic underwater speed swimmer or something.

So I’m thinking this, and I’m thinking that, and suddenly I realize what the tilefish pyramids are all about. It’s a sexual display. It’s “I’m the man” behavior common to all kinds of animal species, including Homo sapiens. These tilefish mounds become exaggerated out of all reason as a courtship display. Any specimen with that much energy to squander on building pyramids would be guaranteed the pick of the prom. It’s a pharaonic fish’s equivalent to the peacock’s tail or swimfins too big for this trimaran. An enormous expenditure of  resources simply to say “I can afford to do this. So mate with me.”

The male of our own species has come up with so many ways of advertising his masculinity it puts the tilefish to shame. Tune in for the next post in this series to learn more about what tilefish and superyacht owners, e.g., have in common.

Here’s an interesting note from an invertebrate neuroethologist who presents evidence that peahens may not really be looking for tail, as such, after all.

7 thoughts on “Peas in a pod: Pharaonic fish and flash fatcats”

  1. I’m sharing at the risk of chantant mes propres louanges, I fear. (Not to mention revealing my shaky command of French.)

    Reflets de Thaïlande N°1 : La photo
    Résumé Il y a des jours comme ça… où l’on se retrouve avachi au fond d’un bateau, sur la rivière Kok, quelque part au nord de la Thaïlande… où l’on est coincé entre un bellâtre australien, globe-trotter devant l’Éternel, une bombe sexuelle écossaise flanquée de sa compagne féministe jusqu’au bout…

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Marion Bordier, Editions Gope and John B Williams like this.


John B Williams What I want to know is, did you write this self-PR?

    “He is best known for humor that often borders on cynicism, an imagination that made him invent completely grotesque novel situations, a proven talent to camp of colorful characters and a sense of repartee that operates in earthy dialogues.”
4 hours ago · Like


John B Williams Nice.
4 hours ago · Like


Collin Piprell I didn’t. I believe that the copy in question understates my qualities, and my mother would feel the same way were she still with us.
3 hours ago · Like


John B Williams But the grotesque novel situations sums you up nicely. I know my mother would agree if she were still with us.
3 hours ago · Like


Collin Piprell I question your mother’s judgment. Grotesque, again, is an understatement.
3 hours ago · Like · 1


John B Williams Well, maybe a simple “Just plain ugly” works best.
3 hours ago · Like


Collin Piprell Visit my hot-off-the-press new blog post, the first in weeks, to see how a tilefish mound sighting might inspire an entire novel, if one had the energy.
3 hours ago · Like


Collin Piprell The energy of a male tilefish would do it.


Collin Piprell Since I’m chantant mes propres louanges anyway:
Peas in a pod: Pharaonic fish and flash fatcats « « COLLIN PIPRELL 
www.collinpiprell.comA pharaonic fish’s equivalent to the peacock’s tail. An enormous expenditure of resources simply to say “I can afford to do this. So mate with me.”

3 hours ago · Like · 1 · Remove Preview


John B Williams Oh! I had forgotten what those were. I just saw some again in the Philippines and they looked strangely familiar but I couldn’t remember the name. Cool. I’ve been to those dive sites up at Great Western Torres quite a few times now and I have to say it…See More
3 hours ago · Unlike · 1


John B Williams “Tune in for the next post in this series to learn more about what tilefish and superyacht owners, e.g., have in common.” Oh, I was wrong, that’s beautiful not just plain ugly. Nice.
3 hours ago · Unlike · 1

  2. Collin, A follow up post to the one I left on Facebook. Now that I have left the ranks of the 17 remaining people who didn’t blog I see a sense of etiquette developing in me that I lacked before. I comment here to acknowledge once again your keen sense of prophecy, without being burdened with piles of money for this skill. I refer to your profile picture and entry. Now that I am blogging full time I have no time for reading actual literature anymore. You, of course, understand these things better than most. Best of luck with the new novel getting published to a maincreek audience. Of course, since I no longer read books, I’ll buy it as a gift. The rumor is physical books may become the fruit cakes of the 21st century. Passed around from consumer to consumer but never actually being being consumed. Well, enough cheerfulness for one post. I have non paying blogging to do. My wife seems pleased about it, anyway …

    • Books as the fruitcakes of the 21st century. I love it. (The perception, not the actual outcome.)

      Anyway, your blog is looking good. And it has the kind of focus my own doesn’t.

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