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Predatory fish changes its stripes

January 20, 2005

In a Brief Communication in the January 20, 2005 Nature, Isabelle Côté and Karen Cheney look at what governs the flashy, opportunistic mimicry displayed by the fangblenny fish (Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos). This savage fish cruises around the coral reef disguised as the harmless bluestreak cleaner fish (Labroides dimidiatus), which provides a helpful parasite-removal service to other fish- who then make unwitting fodder for the mimic. But the researchers find that the predator can extend its larder by swiftly reinstating the second electric-blue stripe of its normal, non-mimetic appearance, which enables it to use a shoal of small fish as a hiding place for launching an attack.

Because mimicry among vertebrates is usually a permanent state, this example
of being able to go undercover at will is surprising.

Abstract © 2005 Nature

“Choosing when to be a cleaner-fish mimic,” Isabelle M. Côté, Karen L. Cheney, Nature, January 20, 2005

Isabelle Côté (University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK)