Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fiji: Imitation is flattery, and survival

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in October and November 2010. Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefs, pick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands. 

Today's post comes from Steve Bailey, the Aquarium's Curator of Fishes.

Imagine it being necessary to assume the identity of someone else to avoid being eaten. Some organisms’ life strategy is based on this premise.

Start with Canthigaster valentine, the black-saddled toby, a species of puffer fish, which is not a good menu choice to prospective predators. Puffer fish possess some very disagreeable tasting organs; in fact taste may be the least of it, toxic enough in some cases to kill the consumer of their flesh. Their flamboyant colored and patterned cloak seems to be a direct message of ‘look at me, take careful note of this pattern of colors and shapes, and don’t even think about eating me.’ 

The mimic filefish Paraluteres prionurus takes on a striking resemblance to the black saddle toby to avoid being a meal for a myriad of hungry roving reef fish eaters. Having none of the toxic internal body bits that would discourage a predator from contemplating it as an entree, this species has utilized deception as the solution to the problem.

Yesterday’s first dive revealed numerous mimic filefish on the seafans festooning the shear walls of Mushrooms dive site in the Namena Marine Reserve. There’s a great deal of pleasure pointing out this blatant fib to a dive partner who’s new to the neighborhood and seeing their eyes go wide through their mask as the realization settles in.

It never gets boring under the surface!


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