Posts Tagged 'clownfish'

A Blue View: Clownfish

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 9, 2014: Clownfish

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
clownfish and the important role
they play in the health of coral reefs!

Parents of young children know a thing or two about clownfish. These adorable orange and white fish rocketed to stardom in the animated classic Finding Nemo, which featured an adventurous clownfish hero.

Finding Nemo

Clownfish popularity, however, extends far beyond the preschool set. The movie led to an upswing in their demand within the exotic pet trade – they are now one of the most popular saltwater aquarium fish.

That was the downside of the Nemo-effect. The upside? More people became interested in coral reef conservation. It is an ecosystem of tremendous importance, fragility and interdependence, and clownfish are an indicator species for reef health.

Further, they are truly fascinating creatures. When Nemo’s dad, Marlin, names all of the eggs Marlin Junior, the moviemakers got the science right: all clown fish are born male. Many fish species are able to change sex, almost always from female to male. But the clownfish is different, changing gender only to become the dominant female of the group, and that change is irreversible. In a clownfish group living in an anemone the largest fish is female, the second largest a male. They are the mating pair.

But the adventure story of Nemo’s dad traveling far and wide to find his son? Unscientific. In the wild, clownfish never venture far from their anemone. It’s home…and pantry. It’s this interdependence that has earned the fish their full name: the anemone clownfish.

national aquarium clownfish

The relationship between anemones and anemone clownfish is a classic oceanic partnership of mutualism.

In science, mutualism is defined as a relationship between two species in which both benefit from the association. In fact, clownfish and anemones probably couldn’t live without each other, which qualifies them as “obligate symbionts.”

They couldn’t be more different, yet they need each other to survive. The clownfish is a vertebrate, while a sea anemone is an invertebrate, closely related to corals and jellyfish. And like them, its sting is deadly to most other creatures.

So how does the clownfish manage to live among the anemone’s lethal tentacles? Well, very cautiously. As the clownfish gets to know its anemone, it does an elaborate ballet of tentative darting movements, touching the anemone’s stinging tentacles gently, working up immunity and a protective layer of mucus.

Once they’ve acclimated to each other, they eat each other’s food scraps. The anemone’s tentacles provide the clownfish with protection from predators. The clownfish protects the anemone from predators like the butterfly fish and nibbles the anemone free of parasites. Cozy, right?

But scientists have recently discovered that there is additional complexity to the relationship.

The anemone benefits from the clownfish’s ammonia-rich waste. It’s like anemone fertilizer: it helps the animal grow.

After all, a bigger anemone is better for both; its larger tentacles can snare larger, more nutritious prey and the clownfish gets better leftovers and more spacious living quarters.

There’s also a fascinating nocturnal half to the anemone-clownfish routine. Scientists used to think that at night the clownfish snuggled quietly inside the anemone. But Dr. Nanette Chadwick and her team at Auburn University recently discovered that the clownfish moves around more than was suspected, reminiscent of a dog trying to get comfortable on its dog bed.

The clownfish’s movements oxygenate the water deep within the anemone’s tangle of tentacles. In effect, the clownfish helps the anemone breathe.

Clownfish and anemones literally cannot live without one another. In the sea, as in Hollywood, they call that chemistry!

Blog-Header-JohnRacanelli

Take a (Virtual) Trip Down Under and Celebrate Australia Week With Us!

national aquarium australia day

Every year on January 26, Aussies around the world celebrate Australia Day! This national holiday marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the first fleet of British ships to Sydney Cove. 

In addition to our annual event in Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes this Sunday, we’ll be celebrating Australia Day with special posts on WATERblog all week long.

Day One: Australia’s Majesty

Situated between the Indian and Pacific oceans, the continent of Australia is roughly 3 million square miles in size. Its six different climatic zones give Australia a wide variety of habitats.

From the Great Barrier Reef to the Outback, Australia is home to more than 5,700 different animal species…a staggering number when you consider how much of the island continent remains unexplored.

Here are just a few of the Aussie species you can see at the Aquarium: 

Did you know? Seventeen of the world’s 26 most venomous snake species live in Australia. Check out this list of the country’s 30 deadliest animals.

national aquarium death adder

Death adders inject, on average, 40–100 mg of highly toxic venom in each bite.

Australia is also home to the world’s largest living structure, the Great Barrier Reef, which is 1,500 miles in length. Comprised of over 3,000 individual reef systems, the Great Barrier Reef hosts thousands of species of fish, mollusks, sharks, marine mammals and sea turtles.

national aquarium clownfish

It is the world’s largest marine sanctuary and just one of the countless biodiverse natural wonders Australia has to offer.

Stay tuned for more Australia Week posts and join the conversation online using #AussieWeek!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Will You Be Our Valentine?

This Valentine’s Day, we’ve rounded up a list of the Aquarium’s most “romantic” animals! From seabirds that co-parent to seahorses that hold tails, learn how these marine animals show love:

French Angelfish

french angelfish

Ah, the French. (Known for their romantic flair both above and under water!)

French angelfish form a monogamous bond that lasts as long as both fish are alive. They live, travel and hunt in their pair. If a mature french angelfish is seen alone, it’s usually because their mate has passed away, they never look for a new one.

Clownfish

clownfish

Clownfish also mate for life. The male and his mate will live together (in the anemone or reef crevice of their choice) and aggressively guard their eggs until they hatch.

Seahorses

longsnout seahorses

Seahorses have a very intimate courtship, they hold tails, swim snout-to-snout and engage in a courtship dance. Once the male seahorse is pregnant (yes, the male carries the eggs to term), the female visits him every morning and holds his tail. They also mate for life.

Barramundi

barramundi

Barramundi perform a love dance during mating. Every year, the barramundi return to their birthplace to spawn (they also only mate during a full moon). Many Australian myths claim these fish have special aphrodisiac qualities. It’s because of that belief that they’re colloquially  known as “passion fish.”

Scarlet Ibis

scarlet ibis

To attract a female, the male scarlet ibis performs a complex array of mating rituals (including a shaking dance and head rubbing). After a successful courtship, the female will lay eggs and the pair will both watch over the eggs and co-parent their young. Scarlet ibises mate for life!

Puffins

puffins

Puffins also form long-term pair bonds. The female lays a single egg and both parents incubate it and feed the “puffling” once it hatches. Puffins will often return to the same nesting site every year.

Happy Valentine’s Day! How are you celebrating today? Tell us in the comments! 


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