March 2009
Featuring fish, pets, mysteries and carnival

Last installment of my blog included a mystery bug that one of the readers identified. My backyard is a wonderful repository of strange and marvelous critters. Here is the latest visitor. It appears for all the world to be wearing a fur coat. It seems to be able to retract its front and back orange body. The orange part appears to be shiny. I really need a good bug book for Mexico because my on-line search for this fuzzy thingy was fruitless. Can anyone identify it?

Shadow had a bite on his face. He was licking constantly because his teeth and gums hurt. He had raw spots on his feet and legs. We learned after testing that he was anemic, had Ehrlichia, lungs filling with fluid, an enlarged heart (probably due to the Ehrlichia), and was starving -- in desperate life-threatening condition.

My friend, Juen, has wanted to adopt a small dog for a little while now. So, one day I suggested we take a ride out to the Cozumel Humane Society. She wanted a dog small enough to fit in a Sherpa bag to go under the seat of an airplane as she lives here and in the US and would take the dog with her. We didn't find a small enough dog, so we were leaving when someone said, "what about this one?" They brought our attention to a dog that had been recently dropped off as a found street dog. It was skin and bones, had a bite wound on its face and was filthy dirty. Somehow Juen saw the potential. If he lived through the night, he would go to Juen's for "fostering" the next day. Saving him was a cooperative effort. First off, Juen devoted all her energies to caring for him and also was willing to pay for treatments that the Humane Society could not afford. They did provide some of the medication.


Juen worked with the Humane Society initially, then added her favorite vets to the mix, Maria and Homer, from Watchdog Veterinarian. The Humane Society had a visiting vet from Illinois that was donating his time and vast experience to the Humane Society. He agreed to come check out Shadow for the HS. The US veterinarian was in agreement with the plan of action that Maria had developed and also made a few suggestions. So with the cooperative effort by all parties, Shadow began his slow recovery.

We wish that Shadow could tell us his story. What we suspect is that he was one of the many dogs on Cozumel that lives on their owner's roof. Their job is to bark at anyone walking by and they do it well. But they are rarely well cared for and often without food and water. When they become sick, they are let out on the streets to die. In his case, we think someone picked him up and brought him to the HS. Not all Cozumelanians, by any means, treat their pets this poorly, but enough do that it frustrates an animal lover.

Now Shadow is happy and much healthier than he was a couple of months ago. He isn't 100% yet, but nearly there. At first the vets thought he was around 9 years old. Now they think he is closer to 5. He is a funny little soul. He wants to be picked up and held all the time. Juen will cuddle with him for long periods of time. I cared for him while Juen was traveling in the Yucatan when he was still pretty sick. He would want me to pick him up and that went very well, until I tried to put him down. Then he would growl at me. Once he even snapped at me. He really didn't want to be put down. Not only was he physically starving, but he was starving for love. This poor dog doesn't have many social skills but he is learning pretty fast. Juen is bilingual. But Shadow was smart enough to recognize that she had an accent different from most Mexicans. He would really perk up when he would hear Spanish spoken by Juen's Mexican friends.

Here is Freckles before and after his recent haircut. Note the mohawk!. At this time of year the ticks start to come out and that is the cause of Ehrlichia which nearly killed Shadow. So I start taking precautions to be sure Freckles doesn't get them, or if he gets one on him, that I can see it and remove it!

It is hard to tell by the photograph, but this parrot fish is nearly 4 feet long. It is what is known as a terminal male. They go through phases where they change sexes. Not at all unusual with fish. It appears to be the final phase of the rainbow parrot fish. The life span of the average parrot fish is 10 years.

The parrotfish feeds on a variety of things, but they often look like they are eating coral. I believe they are only trying to get the algae growing on the coral.

We often see these fish excreting what appears to be sand. Well their poop does actually contain sand -- probably from the coral they injest. The sand around Cozumel is not the feet-blistering hot sand that is found on most beaches because it is coral and limestone sand. It doesn't burn your feet. We may have the parrot fish to thank for that!

What we have here are a couple of amorous porcupinefish. I watched this fellow (in blue) dog this female for quite some time. There was a third puffer in the mix, but he was smaller and slower. From what I have read, when the female is finally ready to breed they circle to the surface and the female lays eggs and the male does his sperm cloud thing. He reminded me of Pepe La Phew in the way he was pursuing her. When I returned about 1/2 hour later the male was moving away from the shore. He was carrying a shell which he would drop frequently and intentionally. Then he would pick it up and go a little further and drop it again. Very interesting behavior.

Film of their romp to the right.

Well these "bubbles" are a real puzzler. Three of us saw them and were at a loss to understand what they were. Between the three of us we have many years of snorkeling and diving experience, so it is a mystery. We wanted to explore further, but with the spiney sea urchins right there, we didn't want to mess with them. From what I read on sea urchin eggs, these don't seem to fit.

A bi-color damselfish is in the front of the bubbles. Damselfish will stay with their eggs and guard them. But from the way the eggs are described, I don't believe they are anything like those pictures. So, if anyone has a clue, would love to hear from you.

Update: Susanna Fink and Liz Toth both answered this one. These are algae, they are very fragile, aparently filled with gas. If you touch them they disappear. Both Liz and Susanna have been diving the Cozumel waters for years.

This fish is a mystery also. It could be a juvenile of some sort. I did a lot of research and counldn't find an answer. The size is about the size of the photo. Any guesses?

Update: Eduardo from Sea Robin believes this is a green razorfish.

The juvenile yellowtail damselfish is a treat to see. I find them quite difficult to photograph because they dart in and out of the coral so fast. They are really cute and I always enjoy seeing them. They are also called jewel fish because of the bright spots and at one time were thought to be a different species from the adult yellowtail. These fish grow up to be quite territorial and even at this young age will display territorial behavior. This particular juvy is a little smaller than the size of your thumb.

Above is a Black-necked Stilt and to the right are Roseata Spoonbills. They were staying in some of the south lagoons on the island. We are experiencing a drought now. My lawn is parched and the lagoons where these birds were living a few weeks ago are all dried up.

The dry spot to the left is where the photos above were taken. Both the stilt and the spoon bills eat approximately the same thing, small crusations, and all things found in the muck. I have never seen these birds here before. They are common in the Caribbean, but they may just be passing through this area. Once again, maybe someone knows who has been on the island longer than I have.

Fish Fight!

A couple of territorial male parrot fish. I think they are rainbow parrots in one of their phases, but I am not sure.

Update: Eduardo, dive master and part-owner of Sea Robin Diving tells me these are juvenile midnight parrot fish. Just like teenage boys.

Carnival. This precious child was on the Melgar (the main waterfront road) as I was walking to the No Name Bar to watch the parade. The little girl below was on one of the floats. She looks a bit awed.

For me, even more than the parades, are the amazing street dancers during the week of carnival. I live in the Centro area and we often have 2 or 3 streets blocked off in various directions with different dance groups at the same time. The dance groups are of various ages and talents but are always fun to watch. Some sort of truck will pull up and block the street. It will have stadium speakers on the back and the music will be deafening. Everyone comes out of their houses and watches. At one time the costumes were all hand made by mothers in the neighborhoods, but I don't believe that is true any longer. They are much too elaborate. I asked one of the dancers where they got the costume and they said from the costume place.

One of the most thrilling experiences with Carnival on the island is the connection between the entertainers and the public. There is a sharing of joy that is hard to explain to someone that has not experienced it. During the parades you can see the connection vividly and the watchers are as much into the music and the event as the participants. The pulsing latin music, though loud, moves you to the core.

One of my favorite floats was the lobster and I loved this face peering out from inside the float.


I enjoyed the octopus also, very nicely done. Note the tenticle holding the drink!

All-in-all the Cozumel carnival is different from what I have heard of those in Rio or New Orleans. A lot tamer, but still a great deal of fun. It is an event that you can bring children to and even Freckles enjoys it. The Sol float and the Corona floats are favorites with the men. I personally enjoy the Cuban style dancers and below is a video of them and other parade participants.

Link to Youtube video

Immediately following the last float comes the cleanup crew. By the next morning there is no sign that there had been a parade. The uniforms of the cleaning crew have recently been changed to green to be more in keeping with the political party now in power in Cozumel, PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). Their colors are the same as the Mexico flag, green, red and white. But they predominately use green. Many things around town were repainted green from the blue of the PAN party after the last election. The PAN party had changed the street signs all over town to blue, so those haven't gotten changed.

Nearly every time I snorkel I see a "cleaning station" where larger fish come and have smaller fish clean parasites from them. They will even clean the gills and inside the mouth of some fish. I have found this a tough photo to get because the fish that is being cleaned is pretty shy about being disturbed and will leave if you get too close. Here a juvenile french angelfish is cleaning a spotlight parrotfish. The parrotfish looks like it has turned its lights out in this photo.

Below is a spotlight parrot in full color. Note the "beak" for biting into the coral. While snorkling you can hear the crunch when they are feeding.


The queen angelfish is one of the most spectacularly colorful tropical fish. In the lower part of the photo is a blue tang. The queen angels feed on sponges. There is not a lot of competition for this food as they are difficult to digest.

This is another species of fish that can change its coloring and intensity of color. This is due to a type of cell called a chromatophore which will cause color changes when stimulated by nerves or hormones.

This was a bit puzzling for me. This blue tang was "leaning" against the brain coral. I suspect there was a cleaner fish on the other side, but it might have been something else. Perhaps breeding behavior, note the coloring compared to the blue tang pictured above. It is also possible it might have been sleeping. Parrotfish will sleep, usually under a coral ledge, or against something that will keep them in place so the current doesn't move them. Another mystery.

This queen triggerfish is "blowing" the sand looking for lunch. The main diet of the triggerfish was spiney sea urchins. In the 80's the Caribbean experienced a massive die-off of these urchins. The triggerfish was able to make the dietary transition to crabs and chitons (a small, primative mollusk). Since I see these gorgeous fish often when I snorkel, I assume their population is healthy.

Some of my friends that knew me during the 20+ years I bred and showed Abyssinian cats have wondered if I still had Abys. Yup, Ru (above) and her son, Tuffy, on top of the china cabinent. Note the bell on Ru's collar. She has escaped from the house numerous times. She never goes out of the yard - thank God for that. They enjoy the warm weather and are avid gecko hunters. I promise to have more photos of them in future blogs.

Tuffy loves Freckles and plays with him. Ru likes him well enough, but she is the dominant animal and if Frecks gets out of line she will slap him all over the house and make him sit in a corner until she tires of disciplining him.


Another splendid Cozumel sunset. I have been getting inquiries from my friends in the States asking if I am safe here in Cozumel. I am. None of the horrific drug war violence has come to Cozumel, it is an oasis in a troubled country. I have friends that have been traveling throughout the Yucatan also and they are pretty free of problems also. We are an island which gives us an advantage over areas like Tijuana and other border states. The President of Mexico comes here to stay at what is the equivalent of Camp David in the US. He feels safe enough here to go to local restaurants. We also have the Army and Navy housed here, so that adds to our safety. It is a great time to visit as the dollar is strong against the peso.