Large grouper fish gets facial from long legged shrimp
Groupers are among the smartest and the most entertaining of the Caribbean reef fish. They actually have personalities and impressive memories and ability to understand people. This is a Nassau grouper that lives in a protected marine park in the waters surrounding Little Cayman Island. They can grow to over three feet in length and reach an impressive weight of more than 80 pounds. This one is about two feet long and half that weight.
They are one of the largest fish on the reef, except for sharks and rays, and they have very little concern about predators. They are curious about scuba divers and will often follow them, hoping they will have an opportunity to catch a fish that is distracted by the humans.
Groupers are also intelligent enough to communicate with Moray Eels, demonstrating a very rare ability for inter-species communication.
This grouper is also showing a similar form of inter-species communication and incredible trust in this display of symbiosis with the cleaner shrimp in a crevice among the coral. In one big inhalation, the grouper could easily suck every shrimp in the vicinity right into his mouth for a meal. Yet, he will never do this and the shrimp know it. They are fulfilling an age old contract with the grouper, combing his skin, gills, and mouth for tiny parasites and chunks of decaying skin. They also clean the large fish of food particles that can also decay and cause health problems.
The grouper will signal the shrimp, and even wrasses in the area by opening his mouth and gills, or by tilting his body upward to let them know that they have an agreement. The cleaners will then get to work and perform this very vital service.
Watching this behavior is fascinating and it reminds us that animals enjoy much more complex relationships and communication than we once believed.