The same day that I posted the previous article gushing over the perfection of male-constructed tilapia nests on Maui, a blog article on a Japanese pufferfish nest discovery was posted and picked up by the news media.
Since then it has been re-blogged and re-reported hundreds of times. The story is so popular because it appeals not only to fish scientists and divers, but to artists as well, and if you’ve seen the photos you know why. This nest put the modest tilapia fathers’ nests (in mud) to shame.
Not only was the pufferfish nest huge (6.5 feet across) taking hours to construct, but it brought to mind the concentric design of a mandala – the circular figure representing the entire universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. For all its detail and perfection, this nest could symbolize this very thing.
Intriguing questions arise from this discovery by Youji Ookata, a passionate Japanese underwater photographer who has spent over 50 years exploring the ocean. In only 80 feet of water, how did such a creation go unreported until now? What species of fish is making this nest? Though not identified in the photos, the puffer appears to be in the genus Torquigener.
I queried Dr. Jack Randall who in turn asked a Japanese colleague who works on pufferfish about the identity of this puffer. His colleague reported seeing the spawning behavior himself and confirmed that he thought it was a Torquigener, but he was not familiar with the species. He intends to revisit the island during the next spawning season in hopes of making an identification.
What makes this even more exciting is that we have two species of Torquigener right here in Hawaii: T. florealis which is also found in Japan, and T. randalli (named in honor of Dr. Jack Randall) which is endemic.
It seems to me that if tilapia of different genera (and even more distant relatives of theirs such as sunfish) all make the same type of circular nest, then members of the Torquigener genus and its relatives might make nests similar to the Japanese puffer.
If the nesting season is only during a certain moon phase, occurs only once a year, and/or is in deeper water than recreational divers typically dive, perhaps we have missed a similar sight here in Hawaii. Has anyone seen either of these puffers nest or spawn here in Hawaii?
If you can read Japanese, here is Youji Ookata’s original post: http://ookatayouji.amaminchu.com/archives/2012/09/post_459.html