What Counts in the End

Mr. & Mrs. Nemo

iD magazine - - Contents -

Don’t let the cheery and col­or­ful scenery fool you: Life in the coral reef is tough! Deadly preda­tors equipped with sharp teeth or re­in­forced blades per­pet­u­ally pa­trol the area, and the pret­ti­est creatures emit one of the most fa­tal neu­ro­tox­ins. If you want to sur­vive here as a small fish with­out re­sort­ing to of­fen­sive war­fare, you’ll need nerves of steel, re­li­able al­lies— and a re­ally good plan! The clown­fish has all three. It spends its en­tire 10- year ex­is­tence right in the midst of the afore­men­tioned poi­sonous creatures, the sea anemones. Clown­fish and cer­tain species of sea anemones en­gage in a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship: The sting­ing toxic ne­ma­to­cysts on a sea anemone’s ten­ta­cles of­fer clown­fish pro­tec­tion from preda­tors, and in re­turn the col­or­ful clown­fish will bring their land­lords nu­tri­tious tid­bits now and again and also keep their anemone’s ten­ta­cles clean and healthy.

To keep from fall­ing vic­tim to the deadly ten­ta­cles, clown­fish wear a pro­tec­tive mucus coat and will also gen­tly brush up against anemone ten­ta­cles sev­eral times to ac­cli­mate them­selves. This means the sea anemone will no longer re­gard the fish as in­trud­ers. This is how the clown­fish sig­nal: “I be­long to you, I pose no dan­ger— and I am not some­thing to eat.” In the cen­ter of sea anemone, Mr. Nemo sur­veys his 1,000 eggs each day. Yes, Mr. Nemo— for clown­fish, the males care for the off­spring. Clown­fish be­lieve in a de­fined hi­er­ar­chy— be­ing the boss is a good thing. In prac­tice it looks like this: Five male fish re­port to a lead fe­male. They all live to­gether on a sea anemone. As soon as any fish dies, the sur­vivors move up the ranks by one po­si­tion. If the dead fish hap­pens to be the fe­male, the dom­i­nant breed­ing male will have to take her place as the boss. The fe­male boss. Be­cause reach­ing the top of the heap has its price: The male has to mu­tate— by way of an au­to­matic sex change, it be­comes a fe­male. That’s be­cause it’s clown­fish fe­males that rule the reef.

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