Dauin, located on the south coast of Negros Island, is known for being a 'critter hub' of the Philippines, and the area offers plenty of opportunity for divers to tick off a huge variety of wonderful creatures from their bucket lists. The Dauin area is possibly one of the best macro locations around and a particular favourite amongst photographers. Read on to discover some of the best critters you can find in this corner of the Coral Triangle…
Ambon Scorpionfish (Pteroidichthys amboinensis)
One of the most stylishly adorned critters is the Ambon scorpionfish; exceptionally rare and a macro marvel, growing to just 12cm in length. The hairy appendages (no, those aren't eyebrows) combined with their ability to camouflage with their surroundings, make the Ambon scorpionfish a fantastic predator. Its small fish prey don't even know they're on the lunch menu until the 'algae-covered rock' in front of them opens its wide mouth and vacuums them in. The hairy appendages are highly venomous, so when searching the silty bottom for these masters of camouflage, peak performance buoyancy is vital.
Wonderpus Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus)
The wonderpus is distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific, but can only be found at certain sites along the Dauin coast in the Philippines. The wonderpus couldn't have a more perfect name. They are incredibly photogenic and are typically found in the morning at dawn or around dusk. Often mistaken for their cousin, the mimic octopus, the two are quite different once you know what to look for. Behaviourally, the most notable difference is that the mimic octopus changes shape to imitate different animals, whereas the wonderpus does not. Visually, the wonderpus' stripes have sharp borders that run all the way to their suckers. On the mimic octopus, the markings are less defined and their arms are bordered in white.
Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus)
The warty frogfish - also known as a clown frogfish - is a charismatic species of frogfish that could almost fit in the palm of your hand. Frogfish have evolved to use their pectoral fins as arm-like limbs to walk and crawl along the seabed rather that actually swim. Once positioned comfortably in the reef, warty frogfish blend into their surroundings, waiting for unsuspecting prey to drift by. They also move around via jet propulsion, using two tiny holes (gill openings) to propel themselves away from danger.
‘Shaun Sheep’ Nudibranch (Costasiella kuroshimae)
If Brad Pitt was a nudibranch, he would likely be a shaun sheep nudi, as these are perhaps the most widely recognized of all nudibranch species. They measure anywhere from 3mm to 7mm, so are tricky to photograph in detail unless you're diving with a super-macro lens. 'Shauns' (Costasiella kuroshimae) are not your usual nudibranch. Found primarily on shallow parts of the reef slope, these tiny nudis can usually be glimpsed crawling on Avrainvillea, algae. The Avrainvillea is not only the sea slug's home, but also its source of nourishment. As a species of Sacoglossa ('sap-sucking' sea slug) the leaf sheep grazes on the algae, sucking up its chloroplast to hold within their tissues for up to ten days - a process called kleptoplasty. This allows the leaf sheep to supplement their diet through photosynthesis. They are the perfect creature to start hunting for on your way to your safety stop at the end of the dive.
Peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus)
Found in crevices and ocean flats of the Indo-Pacific, the peacock mantis shrimp is perhaps the most recognised of all mantis shrimp. The males display bright multi-colours, while females can be a little more monochromatic. This species has one of the fastest reactions of the animal kingdom, 'punching' unsuspecting prey and breaking open shells of crabs, snails and other shrimp. Mantis shrimps have trinocular vision, meaning they can see using three different parts of their eyes. The complexity of the mantis' eyes also allow it to see extra colours, a trait that matches its own adornment of shades. They can see both polarized and UV light and have 12 different types of photoreceptor for colour (most of humans only have three).
Whip coral shrimp (Dasycaris zanzibarica)
Next time you're cruising by a whip coral, look a little closer and check for variation in texture. If this is the case, you might have just spotted a whip coral shrimp! They are perfectly camouflaged within the corals' polyp structure and colouring. They can sometimes be found in pairs and the females are usually twice as large as the males, up to 1.5cm in length. Moving very little, these are perfect candidates for macro photography and are found exclusive on black corals (Cirripathes).
Mototi Octopus (Amphioctopus Siamensis)
Possibly the lesser known cousin to the distinctive Blue Ring Octopus, the Mototi octopus is just as dazzling. Also known as the poison ocellate octopus, normally they are drab orange-cream-brown colour with black papillae over each eye. When alarmed they may change colour dramatically to maroon stripes over a white background along the body and arms. A pair of iridescent blue rings act as false-eye spots to scare off potential predators. They feed on shellfish and crabs, drilling through their shells and then injecting paralytic saliva before extracting the paralysed prey.
Blue Dragon Nudibranch (Pteraeolidia ianthina)
Similar to the 'Shaun Sheep' nudi, the blue dragon is also 'solar-powered'. The Blue Dragon is carnivorous and eats hydroids (stinging organisms closely related to corals). Hydroids contain zooxanthellae in their tissues and zooxanthellae convert sunlight energy into sugars through photosynthesis. Once within the Blue Dragons' tissues, the zooxanthellae continue to photosynthesise and produce sugars which the Blue Dragon uses as a feeding mechanism.