Kissing the Babies

Kissing the Babies

One of the pleasures of scuba diving is watching the behavior of the animals in our fascinating underwater world.  Caring for offspring is one of the most interesting activities under the sea.  While some animals die after they reproduce, others are doting parents.  Some animals work as partners, some as single parents, and others don’t acknowledge their young at all, even seeing them as food.  I have been lucky enough to observe anemone fish caring for their eggs on multiple occasions.

Clownfish with eggs
Clownfish with eggs

Anemone fish such as the clown fish work in pairs to take care of their eggs.  The female observes the male’s efforts, and if he isn’t carrying his load, she will chase him away.  The fish will swim back and forth over the eggs aerating them with their fins, and blowing water over them with their mouths.

Anemone Fish waving it's fins over the eggs to aerate them
Anemone Fish waving it’s fins over the eggs to aerate them

The fish will also swim over the eggs and hold each egg briefly in its mouth.  It appears to be “kissing” each baby.

anemone fish "kissing" its eggs
anemone fish “kissing” its eggs

On my last trip to the Philippines, I was astonished to learn that anemone fish aren’t the only ones who care for their eggs in this manner.  My dive guide found this yellow damsel fish guarding its nest on the back of a large leaf coral.

Yellow Tang guarding its nest
Damsel Fish guarding its nest

As I watched, this fish also took the eggs in its mouth as if kissing each one.

Yellow tang "kissing" its eggs
Damsel Fish “kissing” its eggs

Now of course, the fish are acting instinctively and probably merely keeping the eggs free of parasites and debris, but no one can argue the tenacity of these animals when it comes to caring for their unhatched babies.

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2 thoughts on “Kissing the Babies

  1. ” My dive guide found this Yellow Tang guarding its nest on the back of a large leaf coral.”

    well, what’s interesting is that that is not actually a “tang”, which are members of the family Acanthuridae (surgeonfishes and tangs), but rather obviously a member of the Pomacentridae (damselfishes, and… clownfishes).

    The pomacetrids very commonly show this kind of behavior when caring for eggs. Especially the benthic, territorial ones.

    It’s even an important factor in mate choice among that family. I worked with someone who actually had a lot of data to support that the single biggest factor in female mate choice (which male’s nest they would choose to lay their eggs in), was whether or not the male already HAD eggs in the nest to begin with, from any female. A reasonable conclusion is that this would relate to male fitness as a parent.

    I can post the links to some fun papers to read regarding pomacentrid territoriality and mate choice if you wish (my own included).

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