Clownfish And Their Dirty Secrets

Clownfish And Their Dirty Secrets

The Colourful Clownfish Facade Hides A Very Peculiar Private Life

Finding clownfish/anemonefish in Phuket is not a difficult task for our diving guides. We have four different species of the 28 known that we regularly find. All colourful and all have the quirky clownfish attitude that makes them a favourite with divers but behind the cute colours are some very strange facts.

I’m sure you’re aware that they have a symbiotic relationship with anemone’s but this doesn’t come as easy to the clownfish as you might think. The fish don’t hatch with an immunity to the stinging cells of the anemone. When they find their chosen host the juvenile clownfish have to touch it gently with various parts of their body until they eventually get covered with a layer of mucus that doesn’t trigger the neurotoxin laced harpoons that kill other fish.

Skunk Anemone Fish (Amphiprion akallopisos) At Anemone Reef

Skunk Anemone Fish (Amphiprion akallopisos) At Anemone Reef

Once the tricky process is complete they have a secure home and won’t stray more than a metre or so from the host for the rest of its life which can be 10 years in the wild. However if they do go for a bit of a wander then their loud colours reduce that life expectancy to around 10 seconds..

A Great Deal!

So the clownfish has got a very secure home for all the family. A perfect location with lots of food that just passes by but what does the anemone get in return? Pooh is the short answer. In return for the perfect house the clownfish drops its pooh on the anemone. Can’t imagine what kind of sophistry was involved in those negotiations. The clownfish also removes parasites, oxygenates and chases away anemone predators but lets not have the truth get in the way of a good story.

Clark's clownfish (Amphiprion clarkii) At Koh Bida Nok

Clark’s clownfish (Amphiprion clarkii) At Koh Bida Nok

The Dirt

All clownfish are born males. So this begs the question of how they reproduce, this is where things get a little weird. The largest male in the group will change sex and become the dominant female. If that female dies then the next male in line will slap on the lippy and become the lady of the house. It puts a very different twist on the nemo movie – father/mother travels around the world to find its son/daughter to make him/her his wife/husband when they return. Probably not the story-line that Disney had in mind. Having the clownfish flushed down the toilet was also ill advised. Many newly acquired pets found themselves ‘freed’ into the local sewers.

Why The Clowning?

Along with their bright colours, the seemingly endless game of hide and seek that amuses divers and annoys photographers to the point of insanity is believed to have a purpose. Scientists suggest that the constant motion benefits the anemone by oxygenating the water. Clownfish remain fairly active at night when water oxygen levels are lower so the anemone possibly gets an extra oxygen boost. One thing we definitely know is that anemones with clownfish are on average larger than ones without, suggesting that they are healthier.

An Anemone is an Anemone?

Apparently not. Different species of clownfish prefer different anemones. Nemo’s and skunk prefer magnificent anemones, Clark’s prefer carpet anemone and saddleback like bubble-tip anemone. Why? We simply don’t know

Red Saddleback Anemone Fish (Amphiprion ephippium) At Shark Point

Red Saddleback Anemone Fish (Amphiprion ephippium) At Shark Point

Where To Find?

Skunk anemonefish can be found on all of our dive sites. To get more of the species then Anemone Reef (rather obviously) and Shark Point are the dive sites of choice. On both dive sites it’s impossible not to find skunk, clark’s, and false clown anemonefish (nemo) but you’ll have to go to Shark Point to get the much more difficult to find red saddleback anemonefish.

Find Your Nemo With Local Dive Thailand

By Justin Hartrey

I've been enjoying the incredible marine life in our oceans for over 25 years. 13 years ago I became a PADI professional, hoping to introduce as many people as possible to the incredible beauty of the seas.

Having been fortunate enough to dive all over south east and especially Thailand, I enjoy sharing my experience and passion on this blog.

Posted in Rare & Peculiar Critters on .

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