Spot The Little Fishy

Shanny Lipophrys pholis

I believe these are Shanny (Lipophrys pholis), also called Blenny. As the tide pulled out it left these crystal clear pools of water and in them they teemed with these young fish which moved nimbly through the shallow water. They are so well adapted to their environment you would hardly notice them until they moved.

Shanny Lipophrys pholis

Shanny Lipophrys pholis

Shanny Lipophrys pholis

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Shanklin Beach, Isle of White, England, August 2018 © Pete Hillman.


Lipophrys pholis

Also called the ‘Common Blenny’, its colouration is variable from dark brown to greenish depending on its surrounding environment. It has no scales but is covered in a protective slime which stops it from drying out during periods when it is out of the water. It has an elongated body with a long single dorsal fin. It has sharp teeth and can bite humans if handled incorrectly. Length up to 13cm.

It feeds on small invertebrates, including the Acorn Barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides). The males guard the eggs until they hatch. It can live up to 15 years.

Found in pools, amongst seaweed and under rocks on the lower shore. Widespread and locally common except in the south-east.

Photographs of juvenile taken August 2015, Meadfoot Beach, Torquay, Devon.

Three-spined Stickleback

Gasterosteus aculeatus

This is a small fish sometimes called a ‘Tiddler’, with 2 to 4 dorsal spines (usually 3 spines), just in front of the dorsal fin. Larger fish are discouraged from swallowing Sticklebacks because of those dorsal spines which can be sharp and locked erect. A favourite quarry of children with fishing nets in small pools, they hover and dart about in open water and are usually quite easily spotted and caught. It has a torpedo-shaped body which narrows towards the tail,  which is either mottled brown or greenish, being silvery underneath. During the breeding season the male has a red underbelly and a bluish dorsal sheen. Length 4 to 7 cm.

It is a fierce carnivore which feeds mainly on invertebrates, but it will also eat tadpoles. The male attracts the female to courtship with his bright red underbelly and by doing a courtship dance. He will build a nest with vegetation in which the female will lay up to 400 eggs. He will then defend the nest from predation, and will fan the eggs to ensure a plentiful supply of oxygen. After the eggs have hatched 4 weeks later he will protect the small fry and teach them how to defend themselves against predation. They can live up to 5 years.

It can live in brackish water, freshwater or salt water environments, including freshwater rivers and streams, freshwater ponds, lakes and ditches, and in coastal habitats like estuaries and harbours. A common and widespread species throughout Britain.

Photographs taken August 2015, country park pool, Staffordshire.

Sand Smelt

Atherina presbyter

Also called ‘Silversides’ or ‘Little Sand Smelt’, it is a slender, silvery-looking fish with a small head and large eyes. It is yellowish, transluscent green above, pale below with silver scales along its flanks which is often outlined in black. It has 2 dorsal fins sited above pelvic and anal respectively. Length 15 to 20cm. Weight up to 100g.

It eats zooplankton, crustaceans and fry. It spawns from June into July, with some spawning taking place in large intertidal pools, whilst most occurs in coastal lagoons. They can live up to 4 years.

It is found in unpolluted harbours, estuaries and saline lagoons. Also inland and coastal marine waters. It can penetrate the lower reaches of rivers. It swims in shoals, often in inshore waters in summer. Local and seasonal, mainly in the south and the south-west.

Photographs taken August 2015, Torquay Harbour, Torquay, Devon.