If you've ever felt like a fish out of water when navigating the dating scene, rest assured the California grunion feels even more awkward than you.
This summer on the beaches of southern California and Mexico, folks staying out to watch the high tide might just witness a spectacular scene of silver fish flopping around on the sand. The scene may look like chaos, but it's actually a night of romance for these small fish. The moonlit spectacle is the grunions' way of reproducing, coming up out of the water to lay and fertilize eggs in the sand as far up the beach as they can get during a high tide.
According to KQED:
Female grunion use their tails to burrow down into the loose wet sand until they are buried up to their gills. That’s when they lay their translucent orange-yolked eggs. The eggs are tiny — each one a little smaller than a pea. The male grunion do their best to join up with the females and that’s no easy feat. A grunion searches for a mate by flopping on the damp sand. Grunion don’t appear particularly well adapted to getting around on the damp sand. Instead they bend their bodies and hurl themselves into the dark in search of mates. When they do meet up, the males curl their bodies around the females and fertilize the eggs.
Locals have fun watching the scene or catching the struggling fish for the frying pan. The only thing is, a spectator has to know where to look, because the grunion don't come up in particularly predictable places or in large numbers. But if you luck out on being in the right stretch of beach at the right time on the right night, you'll see an extraordinary act on the part of fish trying to create the next generation of their species.
The amazing feat of reproduction doesn't stop there. The grunion eggs are nothing short of miraculous as well, surviving in the sand until it's time to hatch. The excellent short video above from KQED Science highlights the cycle, right down to how those tough eggs manage to hatch weeks after their parents' floppy night on the beach.
If you're in southern California or Mexico during the spring or summer, you might want to inquire about when and where this unusual and amazing sight is likely to occur. It's a natural spectacle not to be missed.