12. Architect 2

My previous post picked up a story that has been on a lot of websites over the last week or so. The story is about a puffer fish in Japan, which is said to build this structure to attract mates and then protect the resulting eggs:

I read about it here, and the main story is here. I’ve been looking for video of the fish building some of this palace, and so far I’ve not found any on the web.** There does not seem to be a scientific report yet. So I am still a little wary. I contacted a friend, Richard Francis, former marine biologist and now author, who knows a huge amount about fish.

He says he’s never seen anything so finely structured, but pointed me towards the closest analogue he knows. These towers below are built by an African cichlid fish. They are nearly as impressive, in a different architectural style.

… something like the style of the 18th century visionary Étienne-Louis Boullée.

Here is a description from Smithsonian magazine. The site is Lake Malawi:

[W]e head for the largest natural mating arena ever discovered, a 2.5-mile-long cichlid city built out of sand castles and defended by 50,000 males dressed in brilliant blue.

The males set to work building their sand castles. The shape of these structures is unique to each species, so the lake bottom is trenched and mounded into a fantastic array of craters and cones. Pits two feet deep and ten feet across lie next to towering volcanoes about two feet high and seven feet in diameter. 

How do they do this? Francis: “Cichlids are great earth movers. They use their hyper-flexible mouths (2 sets of jaws) to grab mouthfuls, then spit it out.”


The picture of the cichlid nest came from here, the Boullée one from here. A scientific article about the cichlid towers is here.

** November 2014: some video has finally appeared, from the BBC. It’s here.

Posted in The Sexes, Vertebrates and tagged , . permalink.

4 Responses to 12. Architect 2

  1. Peter Oliver says:

    Amazing blog mate

  2. Janet Holmes says:

    I wonder how long it takes for a cichlid to build one of these, and do they steal them from each other and fight for ownership?

    • PGS says:

      I am curious about this too. From a quick look, it seems that these are generally pretty aggressive fish and I’d expect some competition of this kind (I’ve asked my cichlid expert, Richard Francis). Something that surprises me is how few photographs there are on the web of these towers. The photo I posted is the only good one I’ve found. . .


      OK, here is some info: “Lake Malawi cichlid bowers gain approx. 1 cm in height per day, and building requires over two weeks to reach the average bower height in the lek….”
      “Previous observations of bower-building cichlids found that males on taller bowers tend to be more aggressive toward conspecific males…, consistent with bower size as an indicator of male dominance.”
      From: http://fishlab.ucdavis.edu/Martin09Behaviour.PDF

Comments are closed.