Made famous by the movie we all know, Finding Nemo, the Clownfish, also known as the Anemonefish is a major inhabitant of the Amed and Tulamben seabed. You are 100% guaranteed to encounter at least one, if not several species of Clownfish while diving with Abyss Dive Center Bali. As its name suggests, the Clownfish comes into the world, lives and dies around an anemone with which it has a symbiotic relationship.
Clownfish, a name covering many species
Around the world, you can encounter 30 different species of Clownfish. Some can only be seen in specific areas, others cover much bigger grounds. In Amed and Tulamben, more than 10 of those can be observed. They are all found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Clownfishes are mainly orange, a colour that can stretch to pink, like the Pink Skunk Clownfish and black like Clark’s Anemonefish, with white stripes. The smallest ones measure up to 6cm, while the biggest ones can reach 16cm.
Never without my anemone
Anemones are sea animals that live stuck to the bottom of the sea or to reefs. They may look like plants, due to their many tentacles and absence of head or limbs, but aren’t. Their tentacles are highly poisonous and deadly for most fishes. Even humans can be harmed by their poison, so however tantalising and soft they might look, remember to keep your hands to yourself.
That being said, some species, like Clownfishes and some crustaceans have managed to develop a symbiotic relationship with them. The benefit of this mutualistic relationship for the Clownfish is obvious. It uses the anemone as a shelter, that protects it from predators. It also feeds on scraps from the anemone’s meals, parasites, and, occasionally dead tentacles. Anemones also provide a safe nest site for the Clownfish, which, depending on the species, can lay up to thousands of eggs that are defenseless.
For the anemone, the interest of this relationship is also to get protected, from parasites and some predators. It also feeds on the Clownfish’s excrements. The movements of the Clownfish inside its anemone helps the water flow better in between tentacles and better oxygenation of the animal. It is believed that the bright colours of the Clownfish could attract fishes on which the anemone prays.
A singular social organisation
Clownfishes inhabit an anemone alone, as a couple or as a group composed of a reproductive couple and juveniles.
However, the Clownfish has a particularity among the animal kingdom. All babies are born male, who live under the dominion of a female, the biggest and oldest Clownfish of the group. The female mates with the oldest male. In the case where the female dies or disappears, the oldest male goes through a change and becomes the dominant female, which will in turn, after 26 days, mate with the new oldest male. If sex changes are common in fishes, few species go from male to female, the most common change being females becoming males. In that sense, they are similar to ribbon eels, who also become female as they grow older.
A feisty little fish
If you think the Clownfish is a cute little fellow, think again. Clownfishes are well known for their aggressiveness. Divers who have encountered them have all seen the female swimming aggressively towards them to defend its territory, no matter the size of the opponent. If it can seem funny, and it often is, bothering a Clownfish for too long is known to cause them to attack and bite the attacker. So, as always, remember to respect the wildlife while observing it.
Clownfishes are also violent in their own group. Indeed, in order to maintain the hierarchy in the group, the reproducing male relentlessly attacks the younger ones, preventing them to spend their time feeding and limiting their growth. If he sees that one of the juveniles grows too much or too fast, he can even drive him out of the anemone, sentencing him to death, since it can’t benefit from the anemone’s protection anymore. There’s a lot of mortality that is the result of this behaviour. Not so cute anymore, is it?
An extraordinary longevity
You though small animals such as the Clownfish had a short lifespan? Wrong again! If they’re not eaten by a predator or chased away from their anemone, Clownfishes usually live up to 30 years. Some have even been known to meet their maker at age 50! Isn’t that incredible?