Ugly Loner

I know, the name is a bit harsh. But this makes us love Ugly Loner more.

When this fish turned up for regular feeding sessions under Quest, it was a bit unnerving at first. It’s big for starters, a little strange-looking – which says something for a fish – and is always on its own.

The normal crew: hanging under Quest we’ve got a pile of sergeant majors with yellow and white stripes. They are fast and quite pretty. We also have a family of French angelfish: a husband with two smaller wives I think. This is because the big one always seems so proud of itself. Then there’s a couple of small, cute fish. The surgeonfish for example. It comes out and eats so gently out of my hand. I guess that explains the name. Precise little nibbles.

The angelfish in comparison, shaped like dinner plates, they are aggressive eaters. Not surprising when you know their backstory. Angelfish are easy to spot – even when they are tiny. They look different, being boldly black and striped yellow with a dash of blue. They are an advertising hoard. As juveniles, they work as cleaner fish. Perhaps not morally acceptable – as in child-labour, but this is the underwater world. Things work differently down here.

I like spotting them in their cleaner stations, cleaning other fish. I saw a large parrotfish push a smaller parrotfish out of the way yesterday just to get a baby angelfish clean. It literally pushed that smaller fish. The little angelfish didn’t argue.

As angelfish grow, they change their pattern, developing white spots while keeping hints of their signature yellow markings. They also become sponge eaters, probably because they become too large for their cleaning station jobs to support them. This means they specialise in eating one of the most disgusting things to eat on the reef, the dense, prickly and often poisonous sponges. And that says something. There must be a lot of disgusting things to eat on the reef.

I wonder if that’s why they like my bread offerings so much. They come and chomp away at the bread; barely missing fingers. I have noticed that they’re not so partial to crust. Often, I’d they’ve had enough, they’ll leave the crusts floating. Urghh. No different to my children.

And back to the title. Ugly Loner. It just turned up one day. I looked it up. Grey chub. I nodded when I read it. It is a dull grey overall; not even silver or shiny. It has no other colour markings. Rather large eyes and a small mouth. I wonder how it feels next to all the other sparkly reef fish. It won’t feed out of my hand either, as the other fish do. It comes close but always hesitates.

So, over time, it became a no-brainier. Shy and solo and very plain, Ugly Loner became our favourite fish. We always make sure it gets his own portion of bread – which it swallows very graciously. Turns out Ugly Loner is a polite eater.

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