Visit the seahorse exhibit in our Waters of the World galleries and, in addition to our super dads, you might see our clownfish pair tending a clutch of eggs (deep reddish orange if they’re new or silver-brown if they’re ready to hatch) behind the small live coral they live in, just a little left of center in the habitat. The male thoroughly cleans a spot for the nest site, which could also be under a protective anemone, then presents it to the dominant female for her approval. If she likes it, she will breed, releasing hundreds of eggs. The male swims behind, fertilizing them. Mom (the larger of the pair) is primarily responsible for guarding the nest while Dad fans the eggs with water to keep them oxygenated and fungus free. They’ll also rub the coral (or anemone), which stimulates it to fully open, to help protect the clutch. No "eggs Nemo" for hungry predators while those stinging tentacles are waving around! Incubation takes eight to 10 days in our 78 degree salt water.
But here’s the really interesting thing about anemone clownfish. They are protandrous hermaphrodites. And you know what that means: A fish can start life as a male but change into a female if population dynamics dictate. Those eggs are going to hatch into little anemone clownfish that have both male and female sex organs. An anemone itself is usually home to a group of clownfish. The largest fish in the group is a female, the next largest is a male, and the rest are gender neutral because they haven’t fully developed either set of sex organs. If the big female strays too far from the protection of her anemone apartment complex and is eaten, or otherwise comes to an abrupt end, the male will change into a female and the largest of the androgynous fish will develop into a male. So an anemone clownfish might be eligible to celebrate Father’s Day this year and Mother’s Day next year.
Don’t forget Father’s Day, Sunday, June 20.
Posted by Karen Furnweger, web editor