From the family favorite movie Finding Nemo, we all know about the clown fish’s (Amphiprion) “shocking” home of choice, the sea anemone. These funny fish have a mutualistic relationship, with their killer domicile of choice, which allows for their survival. The relationship is one of symbiosis. In return for protection of the fish’s life the anemones gain nutrients from the fish’s byproducts, cleaning the anemone, and scaring away predatory fish. The tentacles of an anemone will fatally sting any other species of fish besides clownfish, so the question now is how? There are many theories to their way of immunity to these stings, but the most supported theory is the idea that clownfish have a protective mucous coat. Weather this characteristic is innate, acquired, or both depends on the species of clownfish. The species that innately shows the ability of self-protection produce a mucous coat thick enough to allow free from harm movement among the anemones.
For the species that must acquire this ability due to a thin mucous coat, must “brush” through the tentacles over and over again until immunity is reached. The coat is not the only source of protection. When the fish first come in contact with the anemone they gain antigens from the anemone. These antigens act as a camouflage for the fish against the anemone; the anemone can no longer detect a difference between itself and the clownfish, so in a sense the clownfish becomes the anemone.
With these two methods of protection theorized the question still remains, “What is the source of the mucous?” One possibility is that they simply produce the chemical containing mucous themselves allowing for prevention of stinging. The other possibility is when the clownfish rub up against the anemone tentacles they are rubbing mucous over their bodies. Both hypotheses can be supported, so it is quite possible that both exist among the 28 different species of clownfish and an even larger variety of anemones. The downfall to this diversity among anemones and clownfish species is that each cell of anemones’ nematocysts is different. This differentiation is why it is important that once a clownfish has found a home in an anemone, it must stay with that anemone.
These two marine creatures somehow live in a harmonious and necessary relationship. Be it from a mucous coating, or chemical camouflage the clownfish has survived as a species by choice of home. However they make up this mysterious coat of protection, they have found a way to use their “enemies” to their benefit. I guess it pays off to Keep your friends close, but your anemones closer.
- “Intricate Relationship Allows the Other to Flourish: The Sea Anemone and the Clownfish.” AskNature. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
- “Marine Discovery Lesson.” Marine Discovery Lesson. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
- “Mucus Coat Protects from Sea Anemone: Clownfish.” AskNature. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.