Important information about the health of the Great Barrier Reef

Marine Mimicry

What is mimicry?
There are many poisonous (and venomous) creatures in the oceans. Some harmless species have evolved a colour scheme similar to the dangerous ones, so they can gain benefits such as bluffing predators.

Are there different forms of mimicry?
Yes. Batesian mimicry is where a harmless animal is trying to look like a poisonous form to try and gain some protection. An example of this is the Harlequin Snake Eel, which has black and white bands. It is very similar to the Banded sea snake, which is highly venomous. The eel gains protection from predators that would other wise regard it as prey.

The frogfish (a type of anglerfish) engages in what is known as “Aggressive mimicry”. The fish uses a fleshy appendage just above its lip, and wiggles it like a worm to try and attract prey. When the prey is attracted to the unconventional lure and moves in closer, the frogfish strikes quickly, and consumes the unsuspecting (and somewhat startled!) fish.

One of the best known cases of mimicry on the reef involves the cleaner wrasse and the saber toothed blenny. The cleaner wrasse is one of the most important fish on a reef system. It provides an important service to the other reef fish, by removing small parasites, cleaning up old wounds and pulling out dead scales. To attract potential clients, the cleaner wrasse advertises its services by undertaking a hypnotic “dance” in the water column.

The saber toothed blenny, which has identical blue and black markings to the cleaner wrasse, also conducts this rhythmical process in areas that wrasse are found. However, as opposed to providing a free cleaning service, the saber toothed blenny tears large chunks of flesh out of the relaxed and unsuspecting clients, and swims rapidly away.

Posted in Research, Science