Clownfish or anemonefish are fishes from the subfamily Amphiprioninae in the family Pomacentridae. Thirty species are recognized: one in the genus Premnas, while the remaining are in the genus Amphiprion. In the wild, they all form symbiotic mutualisms with sea anemones. Depending on species, anemonefish are overall yellow, orange, or a reddish or blackish color, and many show white bars or patches. The largest can reach a length of 17 cm (6+1⁄2 in), while the smallest barely achieve 7–8 cm (2+3⁄4–3+1⁄4 in).
Distribution and habitats
Anemonefish are endemic to the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean, including the Red Sea, and Pacific Ocean, the Great Barrier Reef, Southeast Asia, Japan, and the Indo-Malaysian region. While most species have restricted distributions, others are widespread. Anemonefish typically live at the bottom of shallow seas in sheltered reefs or in shallow lagoons. No anemonefish are found in the Atlantic.
Anemonefish are omnivorous and can feed on undigested food from their host anemones, and the fecal matter from the anemonefish provides nutrients to the sea anemone. Anemonefish primarily feed on small zooplankton from the water column, such as copepods and tunicate larvae, with a small portion of their diet coming from algae, with the exception of Amphiprion perideraion, which primarily feeds on algae.
Symbiosis and mutualism
Anemonefish and sea anemones have a symbiotic, mutualistic relationship, each providing many benefits to the other. The individual species are generally highly host specific, and especially the genera Heteractis and Stichodactyla, and the species Entacmaea quadricolor are frequent anemonefish partners. The sea anemone protects the anemonefish from predators, as well as providing food through the scraps left from the anemone's meals and occasional dead anemone tentacles, and functions as a safe nest site. In return, the anemonefish defends the anemone from its predators and parasites. The anemone also picks up nutrients from the anemonefish's excrement.
Bleaching of the host anemone can occur when warm temperatures cause a reduction in algal symbionts within the anemone. Bleaching of the host can cause a short-term increase in the metabolic rate of resident anemonefish, probably as a result of acute stress. Over time, however, there appears to be a down-regulation of metabolism and a reduced growth rate for fish associated with bleached anemones. These effects may stem from reduced food availability (e.g. anemone waste products, symbiotic algae) for the anemonefish.
Several theories are given about how they can survive the sea anemone poison:
The mucus coating of the fish may be based on sugars rather than proteins. This would mean that anemones fail to recognize the fish as a potential food source and do not fire their nematocysts, or sting organelles.
The coevolution of certain species of anemonefish with specific anemone host species may have allowed the fish to evolve an immunity to the nematocysts and toxins of their hosts. Amphiprion percula may develop resistance to the toxin from Heteractis magnifica, but it is not totally protected since it was shown experimentally to die when its skin, devoid of mucus, was exposed to the nematocysts of its host.
Anemonefish are the best known example of fish that are able to live among the venomous sea anemone tentacles, but several others occur, including juvenile threespot dascyllus, certain cardinalfish (such as Banggai cardinalfish), incognito (or anemone) goby, and juvenile painted greenling.