Clownfish on reef in Fiji play in venomous sea anemone
Clownfish are among the most loved and recognizable fish in the ocean. They were made even more famous by the animated film: "Finding Nemo", a story about an adorable and spunky clownfish who did not allow his physical differences to become limitations. And those who know about the clownfish also know that they are unique in their ability to live among highly venomous, sting sea anemones. But there are many parts to this story that are not so widely known.
Of the more than 1,000 species of sea anemones, only 10 have a symbiotic relationship with the 26 species of tropical clownfish. Sea anemones are actually animals, even though they might appear to be plants due to the way they adhere to the sea floor and remain in one spot as if they are rooted. They wave their tentacles in the water and employ nematocysts, harpoon-like stingers to capture prey. The anemones actually eat fish that they can paralyze and catch. The stings are also enough to ward off most predators, but some fish, such as the butterfly fish are still capable of nibbling on the nutrient-rich tentacles of the anemone.
The clownfish will not try to eat the anemone. It will actually protect the anemone by chasing away predators and it also provides the anemone with nutrients in the form of waste secretion. The anemone has evolved to not sting the clownfish but if this agreement is not honored, the clownfish has a thick mucus layer on its skin that provides great protection from the nematocyst stings. It can also combine mucus obtained from the anemone itself to create a stronger barrier with greater protection. Clownfish are often seen burrowing into the tentacles of the anemone. This helps them avoid predators but it also helps them maintain their protective mucus layer.
Clownfish like these are a joy to watch as they frolic and play around the anemones. Their bright colors and cute appearance are as enjoyable to see as the beautiful friendship that they share with the fascinating and mysterious sea anemone. These fish were found on a shallow Pacific reef that surrounded a small island near Fiji.