One bite can destroy a reputation, even if you are a fish

July 13, 2011
Maintaining a clean reputation: Reputation rules the Surgeon fish and cleaner fish relationship. Photo Copyright belongs to Richard Smith -

( -- Misbehaving in front of others can ruin your reputation even if you are a fish, according to an international study that has shown for the first time an audience can influence levels of cooperation in non-human animals.

Scientists from The University of Queensland (UQ), University of Cambridge, and the University of Neuchatel have found that cleaner fish that remove parasites from larger ‘client' fish – providing a type of cleaning service – are less likely to bite their client if they have an of other fish (eavesdropping bystanders).

These cleaner fish sometimes get greedy and bite clients rather than sticking to parasites. This bad behaviour brings mealtimes to an abrupt end as the disgruntled larger fish swims off.

The study, which was published in Current Biology today, showed that other large reef fish that observe this behavior avoid the cleaner fish that have a reputation for biting.

Study co-author, UQ's Dr Lexa Grutter, said the group's research has demonstrated for the first time that having an audience can influence levels of in a non-human animal.

“Having an audience makes cleaner fish work to improve their reputation by behaving more cooperatively,” Dr Grutter said.

“The fish in the audience – what we call ‘eavesdropping bystanders' - used image scoring to decide which cleaner fish to avoid.”

Future research will investigate whether cleaner fish care about their more if the bystanders are more valuable clients.

The bluestreak cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) is one of several species of cleaner wrasse found on coral reefs in much of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, as well as many seas, including the Red Sea and those around Southeast Asia. Like other cleaner wrasses, it eats and dead tissue off the surface of larger fish in a mutualistic relationship that provides food and protection from predation for the wrasse, and considerable health benefits for the other .

Explore further: New research decodes the secret language of the sea

More information: The paper ‘Cleaner wrasses Labroides dimidiatus are more cooperative in the presence of an audience' is available online.

Related Stories

Researchers reveal that sharks are hygienic

March 15, 2011

( -- Scientists at Bangor University have shown for the first time, that sharks visit shallow tropical reefs or 'seamounts', to benefit from cleaning services and rid themselves of cumbersome parasites. The strategy ...

Fish weight-watchers

June 15, 2011

( -- Telling your partner to watch her weight is not recommended-unless you're a male cleaner fish, reports a new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Recommended for you

Winter season reverses outcome of fruit fly reproduction

November 24, 2015

Male fruit flies could find their chances of fathering offspring radically reduced if they are last in the queue to mate with promiscuous females before winter arrives, according to new University of Liverpool research.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jul 13, 2011
Had the financial piranha of Wall Street been cleaner fish, we would have a much healthier economy today.
not rated yet Jul 15, 2011
Presumably, these cleaner fish evolved from a species that parasitically bit other fish, and maybe hungrier than normal individuals are more likely to follow their instincts to do so.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.