Clownfish Communicate to Maintain Social Status

Written by on November 9, 2012 in Marine Life

Clownfish. Photo credit: Nick Hobgood.

New research reveals that clownfish (Pomacentridae) produce sounds in order to establish and defend their breeding status.

Clownfish live in social groups unique among fish.  In their groups, the largest fish develops as a female and the second largest fish develops as a male.  The rest of the group remains gender-neutral unless something happens to the female.  If she dies, the group shifts up to replace her.

The study determined that clownfish make two distinct noises: one is aggressive (produced with threat postures) and one is submissive (produced with head shaking movements).  Smaller fish produce shorter pulses and higher frequency noises than larger fish.

This discovery is particularly interesting because other pomacentrids produce sounds for mate attraction but that’s not the case with clownfish; the sounds they make help maintain the status quo.

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Copyright © 2012 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 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. .


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