Ocean Life

In my last blog on hummingbirds, I posted a poll and asked readers to vote on an animal-related subject for the next blog.  The poll currently has a grand total of two votes and one of them may have come from me.  Apparently bloggers don’t use polls.  Either that or some people were secretly hoping I’d get discouraged and stop blogging.  At any rate, my blog today is going to swim through the world of Finding Nemo, one of the greatest Pixar films of all time.  If you’ve never seen this awesome underwater show, there are spoilers ahead.  In fact, I am going to encrypt this blog with a password that relates to the movie.  The password is the name of the volcano inside the fish tank.  What’s that?  You’re still reading?  Well I tricked you into reading an alternate blog.  The real blog is ten times better and includes a picture of me with Bruce the Great White Shark.  As a biologist, I will be examining the different animal species portrayed in the movie and revealing some cool facts about them.  Beautiful pictures will also be included.  Let’s dive in!

Our first subject will be the protagonist of Finding Nemo.  Nemo is a false clownfish (True clownfish and false clownfish are distinct species but they have similar traits and appearance.).  Clownfish are known for living in a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones.  A symbiotic relationship is one in which each creature benefits from the other.  Clownfish are not very large or powerful.  They also don’t secrete poisons or have any body armor.  This means that many predatory fish would enjoy munching down on clownfish, even though they smell fishy and taste funny.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  Anyway, the clownfish has solved its defensive problems by taking up residence among anemones, which is why it is sometimes known as the anemonefish.  Clownfish grow to just over 4 inches in length and can be found among the reefs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Finding Nemo is based in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Though they have the appearance of plants, sea anemones are actually carnivorous animals!  They are related to jellyfish and possess tentacles with stinging cells that inject neurotoxins into potential prey and cause paralysis.  Clownfish have . . . does anyone else ever feel weird that we sometimes use a single word form to indicate both an individual and a group?  We have a fish and fish.  A deer and a herd of deer.  A moose and many moose.  We use geese for the plural of goose, why not call a group of moose ‘meese’?  Anyway, clownfish have a layer of mucus that protects them from the stinging cells of the anemone.  This allows a clownfish to live safely while the anemone keeps away potential predators.  Now here’s the catch, there are some species of fish that can eat anemones without being harmed.  Butterfly fish enjoy nibbling off pieces of the anemone.  This is where the clownfish does its part by aggressively chasing away butterfly fish so that the anemone remains unscathed.  Clownfish will also remove parasites that attempt to feed on the anemone.  The clownfish also gets to munch on leftovers from the anemone’s dinner.  Pretty cool arrangement, right?

Photo: An ornate butterflyfish swimming near a coral reef

(Top- False clownfish with an anemone by Wikipedia user Ritiks, Bottom –  Butterfly Fish photo by Tim Laman)

Ready for a mind-blowing fact?  All clownfish are born as males!  Whaaaat!?  Where do all the clownfish come from then?  Well, Clownfish are hermaphrodites, meaning that they have male and female reproductive organs during their lifespan.  In a group of clownfish there is a dominant female, a reproductive male that she mates with and several other males who are not making babies.  When the female dies, the reproductive male in the colony becomes the alpha female and one of the other males takes its place as the reproductive male.   Thus the cycle continues as the males are always ready to move up the reproductive hierarchy.  You seriously can’t make this stuff up!  Hmm . . that gives me an idea for the next Pixar movie.  I know that Pixar announced the sequel to Finding Nemo will be Finding Dory, but I have another suggestion.  What about Finding Nemo 2: Nemo Finds Herself?  The plot twist would of course be when the dominant female in Nemo’s school dies and Nemo is forced to take her place and become a female.  That would work well for an animated movie, right?  Kids would love it and parents could have great discussions with their children.

Now let’s take a brief look at another major character from the movie – Dory.  Dory is a Blue Tang who likes to sing ‘Just keep swimming’.  Blue Tangs are beautiful members of the surgeonfish family that usually feed on plankton or algae.  Blue Tangs have sharp spines around their tail which can cause serious damage to a potential predator.  These spines are said to resemble scalpels, which is where the name ‘surgeonfish’ comes from (nature.org).  You would not want to be tail-whipped by Dory!  Blue Tangs are about a foot long and generally live in small groups.  Scientific studies by National Geographic have shown that Blue Tangs are unable to retain memories for more than one minute, which is why Dory was always forgetting things.  During an experiment, researchers would show a tang a map of where a food source was located in a giant tank.  One minute later, the tang was released into the water to see if it could find the food.  All 10 tangs that were tested failed to find the food source and floated around cluelessly before being eaten by a fake shark.  When the experiment was altered and the tangs were released after 30 seconds, 7 of the tangs were able to locate the food almost instantly. Okay, I may have made that whole story up.  I really have no idea if Blue Tangs are forgetful or not.  Perhaps you won’t attack me if I show you pictures.

File:Blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) 02.jpgFile:Blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) 01.jpg

(Pictures taken by Wikipedia user Tewy)

My next blog will continue to examine the ocean life in Finding Nemo.  There will be Moorish Idols, Sharks, Blowfish and Sea Turtles.  Whatever life throws at you this week, just remember to keep on swimming!  May you live like a clownfish and find a house that will protect you and feed you!

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