A new study reveals that a small predatory reef fish, the dottyback, can disguise itself as a harmless damselfish in order to sneak up on unsuspecting prey. Dottybacks (Pseudochromis fuscus) are solitary and highly territorial predators commonly found around Indo-Pacific coral reefs.
The dottyback can imitate several different reef fish species. It uses its color-changing abilities not only to sneak up on prey, but also to hide from potential predators by blending in with the surrounding habitat.
“This is the first time that an animal has been found to be able to morph between different guises in order to deceive different species, making the dottyback a pretty crafty little fish,” Dr William Feeney, co-author of the study from the University of Cambridge‘s Department of Zoology, explained in a news release.
Mimicry is not uncommon in the animal kingdom, but the dottyback is unique because it can change its color based on the particular color of the species it is currently hunting. Scientists say this flexibility makes it much harder for the fish’s prey to “develop detection strategies.”
To determine the effect of the dottyfish’s camouflaging abilities, the researchers conducted controlled lab experiments with adult and juvenile damselfish. They found that after matching the color of the damselfish, dottybacks were up to three times more successful at capturing juvenile damselfish. They also witnessed the dottybacks using their color-morphing abilities to hide from predators, like coral trout.
To learn more:
- Read the full news release: Colour-morphing reef fish is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’.
- Read the study summary and highlights: Phenotypic Plasticity Confers Multiple Fitness Benefits to a Mimic.
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