Clownfish Talk Their Way Out of Conflict
Image: Clownfish, made famous in the movie “Finding Nemo,” defend and reinforce their social status with by talking, in this case certain pops and clicks. Credit: Orphal Colleye
Unlike the 360 other species of territorial marine fish in the Pomacentridae family, clownfish don’t make a peep when mating. Researchers wondering why clownfish would bother to make noise in other circumstances discovered that their chatter helps maintain the rank and file among group members.
“Sound could be an interesting strategy for preventing conflict between group members,” lead study author Orphal Colleye, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Liège, Belgium, told LiveScience. “In terms of cost energy, you don’t have to interact with another individual to determine which is the dominant and which is the subordinate, you just need to make a sound.”
Pops and clicks
Clownfish have an unusual home life: Up to six fish form a group around a single sea anemone. The largest of the group is a female, the second largest is a male, and the rest are immature fish that do not have a gender. (Once they do, they will be able to change their gender as mating pairs die out.)
The researchers found that the larger clownfish that dominate the social circles with aggressive moves, such as chasing and charging, make popping sounds distinct from the static-like sounds of the smaller, more submissive clownfish.
Both in the wild and in captivity, a single clownfish can make both sounds: a pop toward a smaller fish, a click toward a larger fish.