Scientists tested clownfish and discovered that they are better than humans at one thing

Clownfish are not only beautiful, but also intelligent. They know how to distinguish different species of sea anemones from each other better than humans can. Fish only need their senses, while we have to do extensive research to know the difference.

Clownfish live in symbiosis with sea anemones. The small orange-white fish, also called clownfish, is no more than 15 cm long and is also often seen in aquariums. They live in sea anemones. They are a type of benign tumor that does not have a skeleton and has a suction cup, which attaches to the sea floor and can also move. Sea anemones, which belong to cnidarians, have stinging cells on their tentacles with which they can sting ferociously, similar to the sting of a jellyfish. The fish provide the anemone with food scraps in exchange for protection.

Preference for sea anemones
But the clownfish doesn't feel at home in every sea anemone. Some even thrive in just one species. It is unclear exactly why they prefer one sea anemone over another, because we know very little about the genetic diversity of giant sea anemones.

Japanese scientists have changed that. They focused on one specific species, the mite anemone, and discovered something remarkable: clownfish turned out to be better at recognizing sea anemones than humans. They used their sensory organs to find the sea anemone they wanted to live in and avoided other species. On the other hand, humans must sample sea anemones and research their molecular characteristics to identify the species.

Test in tank
This is exactly what Asian scientists did. They collected particles from the claws of seven species found on the Japanese island of Okinawa. After DNA research, they were able to create a family tree describing the evolutionary relationships between different species and how they evolved from common ancestors. There seem to be two groups of different types.

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The first group, consisting of three species, preferred the black clownfish, while the red clownfish preferred to live in the sea anemones of the second group. The researchers had seen this behavior in the wild and wanted to know if the fish also noticed the difference between the two groups of sea anemones in captivity. In a large water tank, they placed a sea anemone from the first group at one end and a species from the second group at the other. They then released either a black or red clownfish into the center of the tank. Then we had to wait and see what happened: would the fish swim into the sea anemones, and if they did, which ones would they choose?

Great performance
The animals kept it interesting, because not all of them chose one of the two types. But for the black clownfish, when it chose the sea anemone, it was always one of the first group, i.e. the sea anemone that was also preferred in the wild. The red clownfish almost always chooses the second group, although there are a few that swim towards the “wrong” sea anemone. This is a great achievement for fish, because sea anemones look similar from the outside.

Red and black clownfish swimming in a tit anemone. Photo: Camille Sotero (left) and Natasha Rowe (right)

How does a clownfish recognize the correct sea anemone? Perhaps because of the smell of poison that sea anemones secrete to catch their prey and defend themselves. “For example, clownfish can recognize different groups of sea anemones, while we humans cannot. “We think that these two main groups are mysterious species, or species that we cannot recognize by looking at them, but they are different,” the researcher explains. Genetically.”

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This discovery says something not only about the special clownfish, but also about the sea anemone itself: the tit anemone probably consists of two different species that have always hidden from us.

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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