Rich Pagen is a biologist who has worked on surveys for nearly everything; from mammalian carnivores in the mountains of California, to bird migration monitoring in Canada, and even a study of army-ant-following birds in the Peruvian Amazon. Rich loves the sea, and has also conducted shipboard surveys for marine mammals and seabirds, as well as tagging studies of sea turtles and pelagic sharks.
Anyone who has traveled on a Zegrahm Expeditions trip in the tropics will quickly become accustomed to hearing the booming voices of Jack Grove, Brad Climpson, and others pointing out some of the amazing fish that call the reefs we snorkel above home. And don’t get me wrong, I love all those fish too. But there is something magical about drifting down a mangrove channel in a Zodiac and seeing one of the most unlikely fish in the world, sitting out on the exposed slimy mud—the mudskipper!
These incredible creatures spend high tide down in a burrow in the thick of the mud, safe from the marauding fish that patrol the mangrove roots for food twice a day. But when water levels drop, these big-eyed oddballs thrive. They walk along the mud, using their pectoral flippers like arms; they take in oxygen through their skin and mouth lining, in addition to their gills; and they feed on algae growing on the surface of the mud.
But their breeding biology might very well be the craziest thing of all! The males are very territorial out on the mudflats, securing a spot for their burrow so they can attract a female to come lay eggs way down in a chamber at the back. The male will fertilize those eggs, and then keep the egg chamber air-filled by gulping air at the surface and then releasing it inside. The reason for all this fuss is to make sure there is plenty of oxygen for the developing eggs, a resource that can be extremely limited in the anoxic mangrove mud they live in.