The Craziest Critters in Lembeh

Amazing Behavior Photos you Need to See
By Mike Bartick

The Craziest Critters in Lembeh

Amazing Behavior Photos you Need to See

Text and Photos by Mike Bartick




There is no doubt that Lembeh Straits is a prime destination for small marine animal life. The area and resorts have been a leader in destination dive travel for many years and offer up a slice of the exotic wrapped in a patina of comfortable ambiance.

For me, a Bona-Fide critterhead, Lembeh was instrumental in spring boarding my obsession for critters to the point of moving to the Indo-Pacific. Justified by the fact that I needed to be closer to the action, right in the epicenter of biodiversity known as the coral triangle. This geographic area covers much of Indonesia and a slice of the Philippines, and has been a never-ending adventure for myself and many others engaged on the same underwater photography path. One thing I have discovered along the way is that it the path has actually narrowed, honing my curiosity for specific things that normally interest no one but myself and (obviously) other critterheads.

As always I encourage everyone to use the best critter guide his/her travel budget can afford, create a critter list prior to a trip and check The Underwater Photography Guide for additional insight and photo shooting tips. It’s important to use these resources as much as possible!


Pharoe Cuttlefish Egg

Pharaoh cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis) lay their large eggs in the coral heads for extra protection. This massive egg is nearly the size of a golfball and the cuttlefish inside of it is ready to vacate to begin his life. Nikon 105 and +5 subsee diopter


pennate batfish

Juvenile Pennate Spadefish (Platax pinnatus), often called juvenile batfish, are really amazing and fun to photograph. It is speculated that the bright orange band mimics the colors of a poisonous flatworm, giving the little spadefish a bit of protection against predators. Nikkor 60mm


pennate batfish

Pennate Spadefish (Platax pinnatus) in a head-on stand-off. Patience prevailed as I was able to capture this difficult fluttering spadefish the instant it looked at me. Shooting behavior requires total attention for that split-second opportunity. Nikkor 60mm


mandarin fish mating

Mating Mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus). Each evening at sunset these amazing dragonettes pair up and mate. The larger female will scoot around the coral head with one or more males in tow and when the time is right they begin to rise above the coral head together in an affectionate manner, eventually broadcast spawning and darting back to the coral head below. The female will repeat this act over and over with several different males.


mandarin fish spawning

The mating mandarin cast spawn and dart away, returning to the reef below. I shot this at 3 frames per second with a high ISO and low power on the strobes in order to capture the action and I still missed the photo I had in mind.


Lembeh Pipedragon

Lembeh Pipedragon (Kyonemichthys rumenangi) - Part pipehorse and part fable. This really cool and very small creature has been on my list since it was described just a few years ago. My guide Nunsix flagged me over to a wall where this little guy was living amongst a small bit of algae. I decided to take a deep breath and position myself under the pipedragon to get the shot I wanted. Again, it briefly glanced into my lens allowing me to get a clear photo with both eyes. I have only seen profile pics (which I also shot) but I wanted to see its face. Nikkor 105 and + 5 diopter. Cropped 20%



These amazing Pygmy Seahorses (Hippocampus severensi) make their home, living amongst the hydroids and bryozoans on the reefs and under coral heads. This pygmy seahorse and the one at the top of the page were very challenging to photograph as they love surgey areas. In addition, their dark coloration and compressed bodys make them very cryptic and tough to find. Nikon D300s 105 and +5 diopter


Butterflyfish Lembeh

Butterflyfish appeared out of nowhere while shooting wide-angle at Angels Window. Although Lembeh isn’t a true wide-angle destination, it does offer some very unique opportunities to utilize your wide lenses. Nikon D300s, Tokina 10-17


Hairy Frogfish Yawn

Hairy frogfish (A.striatus) are always on my hitlist. This small and very active little guy had quite the attitude and yawned at me several times. Hairy frogfish are a bit more sophisticated than their anglerfish brethren. The striatus have a large and unique lure that they use to excite their prey, coaxing them closer for the kill. Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm


Special thanks to Kasawari Lembeh Resort and guides Nunsix and Ali. The service is impeccable, guides are fantastic and the resort is stunning. You made our stay very special to say the least. Stay tuned for details for detsils on Lembeh, Macro Madness June 2014


About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also one of the UWPG trip leaders. See more of his work at



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