Holy Grail – 6 Must See Critters for Scuba Divers in Indonesia
Think of what Mt. Everest is to mountain climbers, that is what Indonesia is to reef and critter diving. Most divers in the know already realize that Indonesia sits in the heart of the coral triangle and that is has the largest fish and coral biodiversity in the world; but let’s take a closer look at a lineup of critters that divers consider candidates for the Holy Grail.
I’m talking about the critters that make you do a double take. You know the ones, think back to a dive where your dive guide pointed out something on the sand and you couldn’t figure out what you were looking at; maybe you thought it was just part of the sea floor. Then your guide gives you the hand signal for frogfish and suddenly it becomes clear – that’s not a black sea urchin…(dang!) – that’s a crazy black hairy frogfish!
You might remember thinking, what the heck is this freak of nature? I’ve never seen anything like it before, it looks like a spiky black ball of tar with and blue eyes! Those rare and wonderfully odd critters are a divers Holy Grail.
Holy Grail #1 – Rhinopias
Rhinopias are one of the most searched fish in the world placing this fish at the top of most divers must see lists. Rhinopias can be found throughout the Indonesian archipelago, but are very difficult to spot.
Paddle flap Scorpionfish – The Rhinopias eschmeyeri is the easiest to distinguish. Their body comprises only one single color and without any markings. In contrast to the other types of Rhinopias, this species also has no additional appendages on the body. This species is found in pink, purple, and red.
Weedy Scorpionfish – The Rhinopias frondosa shares the same habitat as R. eschmeyeri and the two often co-occur. This species is found in white, yellow, purple, red and all manner of other colors. It has circles rather than lines covering the body and can have weedy filaments.
The best places to find the Rhinopias around Komodo: Siaba Besar, Wainilu
Holy Grail #2 – Hairy Frogfish
Frogfish are actually pretty common in Indonesia. The Hairy Frogfish though, this one is not all that common. Guests comment that the brownish-orange striated frogfish that looks like Jabba the Hut from Star Wars looks like an extraterrestrial creature. Makes you wonder if these critters were the inspiration for the movie character.
Hairy Frogfish – The Antennarius striatus, is covered with irregularly arranged dermal spinules resembling hairs. The coloring of its body is extremely variable because individual fish tend to match their living environments. The dominant coloration varies from yellow to brownish-orange, passing through a range of shades, but it can also be green, gray, brown, almost white, or even completely black without any pattern. The black variation being the most bizarre and in my opinion, most exciting to see. Often found on sandy sloping sites, the black frogfish likes to blend in with black sea urchins, so next time you come upon a cluster of theses look for a frogfish hiding amongst them for camouflage.
The best places to find the hairy frogfish around Komodo: Cucumber City, Wanilu, Siaba Besar, Bima bay
Holy Grail #3 – Hairy Octopus
The Indonesian archipelago has many species of octopus, as do many other area of the world. What you won’t find in too many other parts of the world is the Hairy octopus, which I think most divers would agree is the rarest of them all. I don’t want to discount the amazing Wonderpus, Mimic, Blue-ringed and Mototi octopus, but these are seen more often.
Hairy Octopus – Octopus sp. undescribed, this well disguised cephalopod gets it names from the long ‘hairy’ tissue covering its tiny little body and, to the untrained eye you may easily mistake the hairy octopus for an orangutan crab or a tuft of algae floating along the sea floor. This master of camouflage can range in color from white, brown and vibrant red, either with or without patterns or spots.
The best places to find these rare octopuses around Komodo: Usual suspects, Wanilu, Sangeang, Siaba Besar
Holy Grail #4 – Ghost Melibe Nudibranch
Indonesia has hundreds of nudibranch species, but there are a few that stand out. These three are especially prized because of the ways they blend into their surroundings so well they’re almost impossible to find. These are the Xenia Nudi (Phyllodesmium rudmani), Allens Ceratosoma (Ceratosoma alleni), and the craziest, and rarest, of them all the Ghost Melibe.
Ghost Melibe – Melibe colmani This absolutely unbelievable species doesn’t even look like an animal, let alone a nudibranch. If we hadn’t found the sheathed rhinophores one would think it was just a string of snot in the water.
The best places to find these rare nudibranchs around Komodo: Usual suspects, Wanilu, Siaba Besar, K2, Hot Rocks
Holy Grail #5 – Striped Bumblebee Shrimp
Some may argue this pick, but I believe it belongs on the Holy Grail list. It may not be the prettiest or most interesting, but after diving throughout the Indonesian archipelago for many years, I have seen fewer Striped Bumblebee shrimp than other well-known crustacean. I know Harlequin, Tiger and Algae shrimp are amazing and the Boxer crab is absolutely adorable, but in terms of the most rare, I think the Bumblebee shrimp wins!
Striped Bumblebee Shrimp – Gnathophyllum americanum, also commonly known as the Striped Harlequin Shrimp, is found throughout the Indo-Pacific. They are small shrimp only attaining a maximum size of about 2 inches. Their body is yellow or white in coloration with black stripes giving them a similar appearance to a bumblebee, while the legs and tail may also have orange markings. Bumblebee Shrimp are similar to Harlequin shrimp and feed upon the tube feet of echinoderms (sea stars). So if you come across a sea star that looks like somethings been feasting on it recently start looking around for a Bumblebee (or Harlequin) shrimp.
The best places to find these crustaceans around Komodo: Usual suspects, Wanilu, Siaba Besar, Cucumber City, K2, Bontoh
Holy Grail #6 – Picturesque Dragonet
Dragonets are really cool; watching their mating ritual is high on most divers bucket list. Many divers have seen the Mandarinfish, but few have seen the Picturesque Dragonet. For some reason there are just fewer encounters with these lovely fish. In fact, I’ve only seen it once and it was a tiny juvenile about a 1/2 long, and it sure wasn’t mating!
Picturesque Dragonet – Synchiropus picturatus, commonly called the psychedelic mandarin grows to a size of 7 cm in length. They have thick slime on their skin that inhibits many types of parasitic infection and minimizes the risk of disease following stress or physical trauma. This seems to help protect them from some other more aggressive fish. They are usually found shallow in broken corals or rubble.
The best place to find these fish around Komodo: Wanilu
If you like these crazy critters, why not check out our blog Peak Season or Freak Season, we’ve got more info and photos of some of these crazy critters. I can’t help but mention a bunch of pretty amazing critters that didn’t make my Holy Grail for Scuba Divers in Indonesia list. That doesn’t make sightings of these critters any less amazing though.
- Lembeh Sea Dragon
- Halimeda, Velvet, Rough Snout and Hairy Ghost Pipefish
- Flamboyant Cuttlefish
- Gurnard Lionfish
- Twin spot Lionfish
- Ambon Scorpionfish
- Ponthoi Pygmy Seahorse
- Bobbit Worm
Various factors such as location, commoner, behavior, and color may be the reason these aren’t in the top 6. Of course there are other critters outside of Indonesia that I’ve never seen or heard of, and didn’t think to add to the list.
We’d love to hear about them, what would you add to our Holy Grail List?