An Underwater Fish Wash!

Location: Lighthouse Reef Atoll - Belize

Day 9
by Wayne & Karen Brown

How do you get clean or brush your teeth? Every wondered how fish get clean or brush their teeth? When fish get dirty they line up at their local underwater fish wash. It's like an underwater car wash for fish! This is called a fish cleaning station.

We saw a fish cleaning station in action today. As we were cruising along the reef on our underwater scooters we saw a some fish all bunched up together, not really in a school but in what is called an aggregation. We wondered what was going on so we cruised to check it out.

There were a bunch of creole wrasse all crowding in to get cleaned off by a small cleaner fish. The cleaner fish was a juvenile spanish hogfish. The creole wrasse were about 8 inches long and the spanish hogfish was about 2 inches long.

We were watching something called symbiosis. "Sym" means together. "Bio" means life. Symbiosis means how things live together. Some animals live together with other animals as friends. Some live as enemies with other animals. The cleaner fish is a friend of the other fish. The cleaner fish gets its food by picking off food stuck between the bigger fishes teeth and by eating tiny parasites attached to the bigger fishes bodies. The bigger fish like to be cleaned so they won't eat the small cleaner fish. If they ate the cleaner fish they would be cleaned anymore.

It was funny to watch as the cleaner fish swam along the line from fish to fish cleaning each one. If the cleaner fish stopped for a moment the wrasse all crowded around it so he would keep cleaning. Sometimes the wrasse got impatient and tried to squeeze to the front of the line to be cleaned next.

The little spanish hogfish did not have to worry about being eaten by the creole wrasse because they eat only plankton, not little fish. Even when a bigger fish (a bar jack) that could eat it came up to be cleaned the cleaner fish cleaned it, too!

We have showed you one example of how underwater animals live together as friends. Do you know of any other animals that live together as friends?

These animals live as friends. Come with us tomorrow as we investigate animals that don't live as friends! Dive with us as we look for underwater animals many people are scared of. They are called dangerous marine animals!

Best Fishes,
Wayne & Karen Brown


Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize

Position: 17º 13' N / 87º 36' W
Air Temp: 87ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds and calm seas.
Water Temp: 81ºF

These creole wrasse have their heads down and tails up so the cleaner fish will know they want to be cleaned. (Can you see the tiny yellow and purple cleaner fish near the center of the picture?)

The little spanish hogfish is cleaning the tail of this creole wrasse while another wrasse waits for its turn. The wrasse being cleaned is enjoying it because he has his mouth wide open.

The cleaner fish turns to leave and the wrasse follow it to be cleaned some more!

The cleaner fish is not scared of the bar jack and cleans it. Even though the bar jack eats little fish it will not eat the cleaner fish.


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