Yellow saddle goatfish are a common site on the reefs of the Red Sea. A team of scientists from Switzerland though have discovered that these fish exibit very unusual behaviour: they work together to catch their dinner. The researchers claim that similar co-operation has only been identified in a handful of species – primarily mammals including chimpanzees, orcas, lions and dolphins. However, SCUBA News notes that Helmut Debelius wrote about such co-operation in a different species of goatfish in his book Red Sea Reef Guide published in 2003..
You can easily identify a goatfish by the 2 barbels on its chin. Yellow Saddle goatfish come in two colours – all yellow or yellow and blue/grey. You see them either alone, or in small groups. Those alone, like other species of goatfish, use their barbels to root around for prey in the sand.
The groups are more interesting. They feed mainly on small fishes, hunting them as a “pack”. Any member of the group might initiate a hunt by rapid acceleration. The rest of the goatfish do not simply follow the attacker, but swim around the coral and cut off the prey’s escape route.
If the prey tries to hide in a coral crevice, the team of goatfish use their barbels to push it out.
The goatfish groups comprise individuals of the same size: they are not family groups. In fact, the groups often also include a Bird Wrasse.
During frequent snorkelling trips in the Egyptian Red Sea to observe the species, the scientists found that the goatfish groups spent most of their day chasing prey.
As more people study fish, presumably more behaviours previously thought to be unique to mammals and birds will be observed.
On Group Living and Collaborative Hunting in the Yellow Saddle Goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus)
BBC Nature News: Reef fish live and hunt as a team
Red Sea Reef Guide by Helmut Debelius
Coral Reef Guide Red Sea by Ewald Lieske and Robert F. Myers