Baby reef fish can ‘sniff out’ their relatives before they hatch—31 July 2017

A recent discovery by researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University has uncovered that two species of damselfish can recognise their relatives by smell—and it’s all happening before any of them have even hatched.

Dr Jen Atherton and Professor Mark McCormick from Coral CoE found that young damselfish imprint on the odours of their closely related kin whilst they are still only embryos.

“These fish can detect and recognise cues from their siblings quite early on in their development,” said Dr Atherton. “They start to panic when they pick up the scent of an injured relative.”

Dr Atherton said that she discovered a highly sophisticated sense of smell. “The most amazing thing is, not only can the baby damselfish identify cues from other sibling fish with the same parents—they can differentiate between the fish of different parents, and also different species altogether,” she explained. “These fish are only about eight days old and haven’t even hatched yet!”.

Damselfish are a diverse group of fish commonly found on coral reefs around the world. They perform many important functions that can promote the health of reef habitats. This capability may be an important tool for the fish to help them avoid predators, with the early recognition of odours helping to reduce their chances of being eaten.

Media issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Late-stage embryos of one of the study species, Amphiprion melanopus (cinnamon clownfish).
Image c
redit: Jen Atherton.

Original Published Date: 
Monday, July 31, 2017