“CLEANING UP”: HOW TINY REEF FISH HELP LARGE FISH


Black Grouper - Arnold - Cleaning Station - Neon Gobies ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

“CLEANING UP”: HOW TINY REEF FISH HELP LARGE FISH

A while ago now, I wrote a detailed post about so-called fish ‘cleaning stations’ – the special spots on the reef where large fish can go to have small fish buff up their scales and floss their teeth. You can read all about it HERE.

I have accumulated a number of new photos from expert scuba diver and underwater photographer Melinda Riger that demonstrate this phenomenon. A big fish with a normally voracious appetite will patiently wait while gobies and other small fry go about their work. This often involves actually entering the mouth of the (as it must seem to them) monster to pick the insides and the teeth clean. There is an extraordinary understanding and trust between the species that means during the operation, the little fish are perfectly safe. Here are some examples, of which the very recent header image of a grouper named Arnold is quite outstanding.

Tiger Grouper + cleaner goby ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyGrouper, Black at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy Tiger Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy Tiger Grouper being cleaned ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

It is not just gobies that attend the fish. Various species of shrimp also volunteer for the job.

Tiger Grouper with cleaning shrimps and goby ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy Grouper being cleaned ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Groupers are not the only species to make use of cleaning stations. Here is a dog snapper at the same cleaning station as the grouper in the header image. Below is a stingray being attended to.

Dog Snapper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Southern Stingray with cleaning gobiesStingray, Southern with cleaning gobies ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

GRAMMATICAL DIGRESSION There is this ‘thing’ about the correct use of the words ‘fish’ and ‘fishes’ in the plural form. The basic principle is simple: ‘fish’ where you are referring to several of the same species; ‘fishes’ where more than one species is involved. I don’t care. My policy is to use ‘fish’ as the plural on all occasions, so I don’t have to think about it. Pedants, look away now.

RELATED POSTS

TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS

BANDED CORAL (‘CLEANER’) SHRIMP

TIGER GROUPER

BLACK GROUPER

All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

‘BAHAMAS SHRIMPING’: BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS


Banded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

‘BAHAMAS SHRIMPING’: BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS

The Banded Coral Shrimp Stenopus hispidus is also known as the banded cleaner shrimp because it cleans other fish (see TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS); and ‘boxing shrimp’ because its stance and the large pincers on the third set of legs give the creature the appearance of a boxer ready to fight.

Banded Coral Shrimp Stenopus hispidus (Johan Fredriksson) a

These shrimps are widely distributed in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world where coral reefs are found. Their striking colour scheme makes them instantly recognisable.

Banded Coral Shrimp (Alexander Vasenin) a

BANDED CORAL SHRIMP ON STAR CORAL AT NIGHTBanded Coral Shrimp on Star Coral (night) - LASZLO ILYES

 BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS: 10 FACTS TO BANDY ABOUT

  • BCSs are decapods, having 5 matching pairs of legs / claws on each side
  • They can be found as deep as 200 metres in the ocean
  • They are also found in aquaria, but need careful management because…
  • They are generally aggressive to other BCSs & shrimps in the same tank and
  • They need room for their long legs and antennae to move freely around
  • However, rather sweetly, they are monogamous and do not eat their partners
  • Diet-wise they are omnivore carnivore scavengers
  • They are said to be amusing to watch as they rush round a tank after food
  • Not a good shrimp to breed: the larvae get stuck in the filtration or get eaten
  • In the sea, they act as ‘cleaner’ fish to larger fish species (see below)

Banded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba Banded Coral Shrimp (+ Moray Tail) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

In its capacity as a cleaner shrimp, the BCS solicits passing fish by slowly waving its long, white antennae. It then uses its three pairs of claws to remove parasites, fungi and damaged tissue from the fish. See the video example below.

A Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus).

BANDED CORAL SHRIMP CLEANING A PASSING YELLOW TANG

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS IN A VASE SPONGE

Credits: Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba); Johan Fredriksson; Alexander Vasenin; Laszlo Ilyesr; R. Ling; LiveAquaria, Fishlore [nb not all pics are from the Bahamas, but the BCS is the same the world over…]