Researchers have witnessed how cleaner fish calm their subjects, often dangerous predators, by massaging them gently with their fins while they’re cleaning them. A new study in the journal Behavior Ecology, however, is showing how this calming effect not only prevents the cleaner fish from becoming meals, but other prey fish in the general vicinity as well.
You want happy ending?
Redouan Bshary and his team at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland set up reefs in an aquarium with predators, prey and cleaners and other reefs with just predators and prey. The result was…
…resounding: predators in the tank with the cleaners chased prey 2/3 less than the predators in the tank without the cleaners; furthermore, the longer a cleaner fish massaged a predator with its fins, the less time that predator spent chasing prey. Even when the predators were not being cleaned, the ones who had been cleaned more spent less time pursuing prey.
Scientists are positing that the calming effect of the cleaners “fin massages” may lull the predators into a less aggressive mood. There also may be a distinct advantage to having “safe zones” from predation obviously for the cleaner fish and the prey fish, but perhaps also for the predators as well. This study may also help to shed light as to why so few fights break out in dentist’s office…it does make you think.