Coral fish’s mastery in camouflage helps it live incognito

February 27th, 2009 - 5:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Feb 27 (IANS) Scientists have identified a coral reef fish that has been successfully living incognito by using its colour-changing ability.
Karen Cheney, from University of Queensland’s (UQ) School of Biological Sciences, who co-authored the study, said the blue-striped fangblenny used a number of different disguises to pass undetected on coral reefs.

“Many fish can alter their colouration, but the fangblenny is the first example of a vertebrate that can change their colour at will to mimic a variety of different species.

“The only other example of this occurs in the mimic octopus that can alter its colouration and shape to resemble lionfish, flatfish and sea snakes.”

“The fangblenny mimics juvenile cleaner fish, but instead of removing ectoparasites from reef fish, they attack passing reef fish to nip at scales and fins,” Cheney said. “Fangblennies can also change their colour to hide in a number of different shoaling fish species.”

Part of the fangblenny’s success as a mimic was attributed to its consideration for the species it imitated. “The fish that are being mimicked do not seem to react to the presence of fangblenny,” Cheney said.

“Mimics often ‘hang around’ cleaner fish, but although fish come to visit cleaners to have their parasites removed, fangblennies do not attack these fish but instead target passing reef fish.

“We think that this may help maintain the relationship between cleaner fish and mimic.

“If fangblennies attacked fish being cleaned, then cleaner fish would probably chase them away from their territory. Shoaling fish will often chase the fangblenny if it starts to nip at members in the shoal, which occasionally happens.”

Cheney said it was possible fangblennies used colour vision to initiate their change in appearance, but further research was required to confirm this finding, according to an UQ release.

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