Getting to Know the Clownfish
A lot of you might already be familiar with the clownfish, especially because of Disney’s Finding Nemo cartoon. These little fish are in high-demand all around the world as they make for colorful additions to any marine aquarium.
If you’re someone who wants to know more about the clownfish or wish to keep one as a pet, below you’ll get to know everything there is to know about this little marine fish.
Clownfish are a small sized fish which is often found near tropical coral reefs. It is also known as anemonefish as it lives inside the fronds of sea anemones. There are different types of clownfish with regards to their color and size, but the most common type has orange and white stripes. Clownfish is considered beautiful due to their features and bright colors.
Size and Body Features of Clownfish
The most common clownfish is almost 4.3 inches or 11 cm in length. Its body is best described as having an oval shape and chunky in appearance. From the front, it has a somewhat round and compressed look.
In the Northern Australian parts of the world, you might get to see one that’s black and white in color as opposed to the usual orange and white. However, as mentioned above, most clownfish species color ranges from orange to reddish brown with three white vertical stripes lined with black. The body’s patterns cover the fins too.
The Amphiprion ocellaris happens to be different from the Amphiprion percula as it has a thicker black outlining and the former one has a relatively taller dorsal fin. Furthermore, the former has 11 dorsal fin spines while the latter has only 10 dorsal fin spines.
Clownfish Species and Family
The clownfish has a total of 28 recognized species, and they mostly live in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. You can also find them in the northern parts of Australian east coast as well as in the Great Barrier Reef and even in the Red Sea. The red-sea species is called the red clownfish. These fish live together in a large colony, where there will be a dominant female and a single male that mates with her. The rest of the colony will be subordinate males. If the female dies then a male will change gender to replace the lead female.
While they thrive in the ocean, in captivity, in a home aquarium they might die unless properly cared for. When the correct conditions are supplied, such as temperature, salinity, feeding and the right anemone as well as proper biological balance the the fish can thrive in your aquarium. Furthermore, breeding them in captivity is difficult for beginners. But some experts are breeding them regularly.
Clownfish swim with the help of their fins in the water. The fins of a clownfish are used for stabilization, direction, and giving rise to a propelling motion for swimming. Each fin has a particular function.
The dorsal fins assist them in keeping the fish vertically stable. The caudal fin(tail fin) propels the fish forward by being flapped from side to side. The ventral fins like the dorsal fin provide better stability and some steering and are located in the pelvic region. The pectoral fins are located forward of the pectoral fins and are used as brakes and also assist in steering. When clownfish are threatened this little fish will hurry back to the safety of its sea anemone.
The sting of a sea anemone is somewhat deadly and poisonous to most fish. However, the clownfish have developed immunity to it because of a mucous-coated skin. There is some debate as to whether the mucous protects from the anemone’s sting or that the mucous fools the anemone into not stinging the clownfish. Clownfish use sea anemones for shelter, protection from predators, as well as for food. Keep in mind that depending on the species of the clownfish, some are innately immune to sea anemone while others have to acclimate (or get used) to the stings by rubbing themselves against the tentacles.
Clownfish Feeding Habits
The clownfish is omnivorous and can feed on both small animals as well as plants. They eat a variety of food like plankton, mollusks, algae, and small crustaceans. The diet varies depending on the habitat they have adapted to and the size of the fish. Clownfish are known to eat small organisms that are killed by sea anemones.
Clownfish are often preyed upon by larger fish and other marine life, and they rely on their speed and protection by the sea anemone to survive. Humans are also a threat to clownfish as a lot of their species are captured to be sold off to the aquarium trade and bought by hobbyists some of whom don’t know how to take care of them.
Clownfish are found in the Western Pacific Ocean and the Eastern Indian Ocean. They are also found in Japan, Northern Australia, and Southeast Asia. The Amphiprion ocellaris lives in a depth of 15 meters in the form of schools in the sheltered lagoons and the outer reef slopes. Species such as Stichodactyla gigantea, Heteractis magnifica, and Stichodactyla mertensii are often found to be in a symbiotic relationship with clownfish.
Clownfish and sea anemone Symbiosis and Mutualism
Clownfish have a symbiotic as well as a mutualistic relationship with the sea anemone. The anemone provides them with food from the dead tentacles and the food scraps left over and also protects them from the clownfish from predators. While on the other hand, clownfish defends the sea anemone from the parasites and predators of anemone. The excrement of the clownfish are also used as a source of nutrients by the sea anemone.
Furthermore, the sea anemone provides a suitable nest for the fish to lay eggs. The clown fish excretes nitrogen compounds which are used by the anemone for the regeneration of its parts and tissue growth. The clownfish have an attractive color, which may attract smaller fishes to their doom. The clownfish swimming between the anemone’s tentacle keeps them aerated because of the water flow.
Clownfish Sexuality and Reproduction
You can find clownfish near a single sea anemone. They have a breeding female and male fish with a large amount of young male clown fish. They are hermaphrodites. This means that they’re all born male, but when the breeding season approaches one of them develops into a female. In a situation when a breeding female dies, the large male develops into a female and then breeds with the next active male in the same habitat.
The female lays eggs on the sea anemone on a flat surface. The number of clownfish eggs can vary from hundreds to thousands, depending on the species. On a full moon, the female clownfish lays the eggs while the male protects and guards them until they hatch after a week. They are breed in warm water and can reproduce all year round.
The breeding season begins mostly with the lunar cycle. When the moon is at a high level, the male breeding fish attracts the female breeding fish. They display a courting behavior which includes biting and chasing the female and extending fins. A rapid downward and upward motion is also demonstrated by the male to attract the female. The female normally lays almost 400-1600 eggs in a cycle, and the nest needs to be large enough to ensure the survival of all the eggs.
Each female’s breeding tenure is around 12 years, and it can be more if the size of the breeding female is large. The breeding female has a body larger than the breeding male. The non-breeder males have a size smaller than the two breeders, and the size hierarchy descends progressively.
The clown fish are identified and distinguished on the basis of their morphological features. The scales on their head, body proportions, color, and tooth shape, and size has helped the biologists to recognize them. On the basis of these features, they have been categorized into 6 categories. The skunk complex, maroon complex, clarkii complex, clownfish complex, tomato complex, and saddleback complex. All fish within a complex look almost alike.
Clownfish in the Aquarium
The clownfish comprises of around 43% of the aquarium trade with regards to fish bought for the home aquarium. Sadly, a majority of aquarium clownfish are captured from the wild. Unchecked capture of clownfish has led to a decrease in the natural population in a lot of areas. While adding clownfish to an aquarium might sound like a good idea, the wild population has to be considered. Buying aquarium bred clownfish is a worthy goal.
There are some members of clownfish like the maroon clownfish which are known to become aggressive when held in captivity. The percula clownfish, on the other hand, are suitable for aquariums as they’re known to adapt and live peacefully. So, make sure that you know which species you’re introducing in your aquarium. Having an aggressive little clownfish won’t sit well with other marine life.
Keeping sea anemones in an aquarium isn’t always easy. However, clownfish are known to adapt to this too. In the absence of a sea anemone, they can make large polyps and soft corals their home. The clownfish is accustomed to defending its habitat, and once they have settled down in a certain coral, they will defend their home.
Make sure that your aquarium has an appropriate reef structure (sand, live rock, and more). Also, allow your aquarium environment to mature before introducing the fish. Furthermore, if you feed the fish on a fixed schedule it’ll learn to anticipate the food. Watching the fish come near the water’s surface for food can be fun to watch.
So, if you’re interested in having clownfish as a pet, make sure it has a suitable environment (add in a few corals) for it to live properly. Once that is all achieved, you will have happy clownfish that will be a joy to watch.