Damselfish “Cry for Help” When Caught by Predators

Written by on November 9, 2015 in Fish, Marine Life

Researchers recently discovered that when damselfish are caught by predators, they release a chemical “distress call” that boosts their chances of survival.

Damselfish. Photo credit: Oona Lönnstedt.

Damselfish. Photo credit: Oona Lönnstedt.

It’s long been known that fish contain a chemical in their skin that is release when they are injured. The chemical triggers “fearful and escape behavior in nearby fish,” but until now, researchers didn’t understand the benefit this response has for the injured fish.

“For decades scientists have debated the evolutionary origin of chemical alarm cues in fish,” lead author, Dr. Oona Lönnstedt, now a research fellow at the University of Uppsala, explained in a news release.

Dr. Lönnstedt and other researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University determined that the chemical cue actually attracts more predators.

“More predators would seem to mean more trouble, but we discovered that additional predators interfere with the initial predation event, allowing the prey a greater chance to escape,” said study co-author Professor Mark McCormick from the Coral CoE.

“When caught by a predator, small damselfish have almost no chance of escaping their fate as the predator’s next meal. However, when another fish predator is attracted to the capture site, prey will escape about 40 percent of the time.”

This is because when more predators arrive, they will typically begin fighting over the prey, giving it more opportunities to swim away.

“It all goes to show that coral reef fish have evolved quite a range of clever strategies for survival which are deployed when a threatening situation demands,” Dr. Lönnstedt said.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Find MST on Instagram Connect with MST on Google Plus

Comments are closed.