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Clownfish Vocalize to Establish Social Hierarchy

Amphiprion spp. use sound to maintain social structure, but not for mate selection.

November 11, 2012

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Clownfish study

Behavioral postures associated with vocalizations and exhibited by Amphiprion frenatus during agonistic interactions.
A) Dominant individual chasing subordinate while producing aggressive sounds. B) Head shaking movements displayed by subordinate while producing submissive sounds in reaction to aggressive act by dominant. Note that wiggly lines indicate the sound-producing individual, and arrows point out the receiver of the aggressive act.
The clownfish, a social fish that nests with anemones in the wild, uses sound to establish a social hierarchy, according to a new research paper published in the PLOS One Journal. According to the study, "Overview on the Diversity of Sounds Produced by Clownfishes (Pomacentridae): Importance of Acoustic Signals in Their Peculiar Way of Life," Clownfishes emit sounds that indicate submissiveness, aggression, and for competition for breeding status, the paper said. The researchers believe that the sounds emitted from the fish helps to establish the social hierarchy, with the smaller specimens emitting distinct sounds from the larger ones, indicating the clownfish practices a size-based hierarchy.

Researchers Orphal Colleye and Eric Parmentier determined that while the sounds emitted from the fish help to maintain social structure, these sounds are not used to attract potential mates, due in part to the way in which the clownfish lives on the reef. Although the fish form social groups, they form mated pairs and live on sea anemones and don't interact with other species on the reef. The clownfish are hermaphroditic, with the larger fish of a pair the female. The researchers studied several species of clownfish, including Amphiprion clarkii, A. percula, A. frenatus, and A. perideraion. They observed the spawning events of these species and recorded the sounds that emanated from the fish during these events.

The full paper can be accessed here.

The clownfish is one of the most popular fish in the aquarium trade due to its endearing behavior as well as its ease to maintain in the aquarium. The fish is also widely captive bred so there isn't a need to acquire wild-caught specimens. As most species of clownfish are captive-bred, they are usually weaned on a commercial and readily available diet, which also helps the fishkeeper. Because most clownfish in the trade have never seen an anemone, many don't host an anemone, but some still do. Here is a link to a list of anemones that are suitable clownfish hosts.

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Clownfish Vocalize to Establish Social Hierarchy

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Reader Comments

Krysten    Kalamazoo, MI

11/14/2012 11:10:55 AM

Weird

Angelo    San Leandro, CA

11/13/2012 4:51:13 PM

Cool, I like clownfish!

CaveCarp    Springfield, IL

11/13/2012 5:42:04 AM

Clownfish are so adorable!

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