Cleaner fish are well known to divers on the reef. They eat parasites from much larger fish, many of which are normally predators. Some of these predators let the little cleaners safely enter their mouth and gills. A single cleaner fish can clean more than 2,300 fish a day from over 130 species and each cleaner eats about 1,200 parasites daily. Most fish are cleaned daily, with some fish seeking cleaners around 150 times a day.

Both cleaner and cleaned fish benefit from this behaviour. Cleaner fish are also thought to benefit from immunity to predation. They stroke their “clients'” with their fins to help persuade the predators not to eat them. Researchers in Australia have found that the more stroking the calmer the predator. And it wasn’t just the cleaner fish who benefited. Other fish nearby the cleaner station experienced less aggressive behaviour from the predators. The suggests that cleaner stations act as safe havens from predator aggression.

Further Reading: Behavioral Ecology, doi:10.1093/beheco/arn067
Cleaner fish do clean!

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