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Relationships are more than romantic

People most often celebrate love with candlelit dinners, heart-shaped chocolates and bunches of roses for their special someone on Valentine’s Day. But not all love starts with a strike of Cupid’s arrow!

In the animal kingdom, love extends beyond romantic relationships. While we say that opposites attract, unique animal partnerships called symbiotic relationships — or interactions between two different species — may bring very different individuals together.

Feel the love at Shedd through one type of symbiotic relationship: mutualism, where both animals benefit.

A clownfish rests among the fronds of an anemone.

Clownfish and sea anemones

Sea anemones are marine animals related to jellies and corals that live attached to the surface of rocks or coral reefs. They use their stinging tentacles to stun and catch unsuspecting prey. Clownfish are one of few species that can survive the sting of a sea anemone due to a layer of mucus that protects their bodies. Clownfish make anemones their homes for protection from predators and for food.

They have a mutually beneficial relationship because while clownfish receive a safe place to live, they provide food to the anemone, help to clean parasites from it and occasionally chase away fish like butterflyfish that eat anemones. See the clownfish and sea anemones’ amazing relationship in Underwater Beauty and Wild Reef!

Bluehead wrasse have long, streamlined bodies with a double-pointed tail.

A blue-headed wrasse, one of the species of cleaner wrasse.

A narrow-bodied cleaner wrasse with a black stripe running the length of its long blue body.

A blue streak cleaner wrasse, another species of cleaner wrasse.

Cleaner wrasse and fish

Cleaner wrasse, a type of small fish that is made up of five different species, will eat parasites, food particles and dead tissue off larger fish. Groups of cleaner wrasse will stay in one place as a “cleaning station” while the other fish come to them. The wrasse can even fit inside the mouths and gills of larger fish, foraging for bits of food. This mutualistic relationship provides food and protection for the wrasse and has numerous health benefits for larger fish. See the cleaner wrasse at work in Wild Reef!

Two harlequin shrimp sit on a rocky bottom.

A harlequin shrimp, one of the species of cleaner shrimp.

Reef fish and cleaner shrimp

Like the relationship between cleaner wrasse and fish, cleaner shrimp gather at cleaning stations and clean parasites from passing reef fish. The fish benefit from having parasites removed, and the shrimp get a nutritious meal. If a fish is injured, cleaner shrimp will also eat around a wound, which can help prevent infection and speed the healing process. Check out cleaner shrimp and reef fish in Underwater Beauty!

A pink shrimp with mismatched claws sits among corals.

A pistol shrimp, with large claws for its small body.

A small yellow fish with large yellow fins.

A yellow prawn goby, one of the goby species known to live symbiotically with pistol shrimp.

Pistol shrimp and gobies

Pistol shrimp, which have large claws and poor eyesight, are excellent diggers and live in burrows in the sand near coral reefs. Pistol shrimp have a mutually beneficial relationship with gobies, a small fish that uses the pistol shrimp’s burrow for shelter and breeding. The goby, with fantastic eyesight, also acts as the shrimp's lookout for predators. When exposed, the shrimp will put one tentacle on the goby, so if the fish darts into the burrow, the shrimp will also know to escape danger. See pistol shrimp and gobies in Underwater Beauty and our main galleries!

A tiny white-spotted shrimp stands with its tail pointed straight up.

Sexy shrimp, sea anemones and corals

Similar to the relationship between clownfish and sea anemones, sexy shrimp have a mutualistic relationship with sea anemones and corals. Sexy shrimp are immune to the stings of an anemones and corals, which allows the shrimp to live among them. Sexy shrimp use the structures for shelter and eat anemone tissue and plankton particles nearby. Watch the sexy shrimp among the sea anemones and corals in Underwater Beauty!