Mullet, mullet, mullet!

The Mullet Story©

Mugil (Mugil cephalus) drifted with the current, tossed by emerald green waves. His tiny body was developing at a rapid pace since his mother had shed her row into the misty depths of the ocean. Millions of his brothers and sisters joined the transparent hordes of the plankton world encapsulated in an egg the size of a pencil dot on a page. Unaware that most of them would be eaten by a host of predators or crushed by giant waves, Mugil broke free of his egg casing on the second day of his life, emerging as a small larva about 15 mm long. Mugil instinctively snapped at passing zooplankton to fuel his growth and with his miniscule tail he followed the crowd up from the murky depths of the ocean toward the sunlit surface waters where the Gulf of Mexico food chain begins.

Phytophankton images from the Earth Observatory/NASA web site.

Sparkling microscopic phytoplankton were busy changing the sun’s energy into the food of life inside their diamond bodies. The diatoms, dinoflagellates, coccolithophores, and algae start out as drifters— prey to tiny copepods, crab,  shrimp and hungry mullet larvae on up to baleen whales that scooped them up by the billions. Mugil gobbled up the crunchy food as fast as he could manage. No human eye could see the teaming hosts of tiny ocean life struggling for existence at the base of a food web, yet all these tiny creatures were supporting  humans, whales, dolphins, sailfish, and sharks.

Instinctively Mugil headed toward land with thousands of mullet-fry (only one out of a thousand would live on to become a full-grown, frisky mullet.) As small as he was, it would be months before he found the bays and bayous of Pensacola where he would spend at least half of his life. Meantime it was a struggle for life in the sparkling waters of the Gulf. He grew by leaps and bounds changing from a larva to a true fish about three inches long with a torpedo-shaped body and strong forked tail fin. But those advantages also made him more visible to the eyes of spotted sea trout or a sea turtle with strong jaws.

As he swam with his kind in a sleek cloud that moved in unison across the lightening sands, moving away from the deep blue of the open ocean into the aquamarine waters of the shoreline. He was growing all the way and now he needed a lot more food. Diving down to crystalline white sands he and his horde ate algae, sand fleas, worms – whatever they could find. Along the shore line Mugil detected the sweet scent and taste of fresh water mingling with the bitterness of the salt-laden sea. Mugil was entering the Escambia Bay. Its bottoms and shorelines, bases of the bridge pilings, docks, old sea wrecks and reefs provided more and more good food for the mullet hordes. Mugil stuck his blunted head into the soft brown detritus on the bottom—a teaming microcosm of life on its surfaces. He ate it all indiscriminately. And he grew.

Lurking in the depths, a water snake spotted Mugil and lunged at him out of the shadows where the tiny fish and his family were feeding. Mugil caught the movement out of his big eye and with a jerk of his strong tailfin he barely managed to avert the jaws of the slithering beast. But sadly, one of his cousins became its prey. There were no guarantees in life. Mugil learned the hard way that the laws of nature spared no living creature. Every living thing was prey to something else.

To Be Continued

Adventure in the Bayou!

 

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