Nature and Science

Published: 12/14/2007

Author: Fredy Brauchli


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Anemonenfische Symbiose

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Sattelfleck-Anemonenfisch (Amphiprion polymnus) verdankt seinen Namen dem weissen Fleck auf seinem Rücken bzw. Körperoberteil. Zuweilen ist er relativ dunkel gefärbt.

Schwarzflossen-Anemonenfisch (Amphiprion melanopus), dessen Färbung mit zunehmendem Alter dunkler wird. Mit Ausnahme des vorderen Kopfes, der orangefarben bleibt.

Stachel-Anemonenfisch (Premnas biaculeatus) verdankt seinen Namen dem deutlich sichtbaren Stachel an den Kiemendeckeln. Er ist der einzige Anemonenfisch der Gattung Premnas.

Weissbinden-Glühkohlenfisch (Amphiprion frenatus). Männliche Exemplare bleiben leuchtend orange und sind deutlich kleiner als weibliche. Zudem weist das Weibchen der ziemlich rauflustigen Art einen dunklen Körperfleck auf.

Clarks Anemonenfisch (Amphiprion clarkii), ein praktisch im ganzen Gebiet des Indopazifiks anzutreffender Generalist unter den Anemonenfischen.

Westlicher / Falscher Clownfisch (Amphiprion ocellaris), bekannt geworden als „Nemo“ ähnelt dem echten Clownfisch und verfügt über keine schwarzen Begrenzungslinien an den weissen Querstreifen.

Malediven-Anemonenfisch (Amphiprion nigripes), in einer durch El Niño ausgebleichten Prachtanemone.

Oranger Anemonenfisch (Amphiprion sandracinos) mit breitem, charakteristischem Streifen beim Maul beginnend über den gesamten Rücken.

Rosa / Halsband-Anemonenfisch (Amphiprion perideraion) verfügt ausser dem weissen Rückenstreifen über ein Halsband und ist bräunlich-rosa gefärbt.


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False Skunk striped Anemonefish, also referred to as Pink Anemonefish, (Amphiprion Perideraion) have a distinct white dorsal stripe and a second, vertical white stripe between the head and the trunk. They are typically pinkish orange in color.

False Skunk striped Anemonefish, also referred to as Pink Anemonefish, (Amphiprion Perideraion) have a distinct white dorsal stripe and a second, vertical white stripe between the head and the trunk. They are typically pinkish orange in color.


Living in a symbiotic relationship with anemones, these fish are a favorite of many divers in tropical waters. Even beginners can easily observe them. But to correctly identify them, you must take a closer look.

Due to their bright color divers refer to them also as clownfish. They belong to the big family of damselfish that contains 28 species (27 subfamilies amphiprionae and 1 premnas). The fish occurs in the tropical marine waters of the Indo-Pacific only, i.e. the Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific Ocean and some subseas as, for example, the Red Sea.

Habitat Fidelity and Reliability as a Symbiotic Partner

Anemonefish live in a tight symbiotic relationship with sea anemones, up to a depth of around 15 m, and each species of anemonefish lives together with one specific sea anemone species. These non-migratory fish are active at day and only move a short distance away from their symbiotic anemones, returning again quickly to their protective home. As anemonefish are bad swimmers, the protection by the host anemone is of vital importance for them, and the stinging tentacles of the anemones protect the tiny fish against their predators. On the other hand, anemonefish courageously defend their sea anemones against small enemies, such as butterflyfish and filefish, and big enemies, sometimes even divers. In addition, the anemonefish remove impurities from their host. But how can anemonefish live at ease between the stinging tentacles of the anemones without endangering themselves? Scientists assume that anemonefish take in the mucus produced by the host anemone while swimming in the midst of its tentacles, which are armed with nematocysts. The anemone then fails to recognize the fish as intruders. Another possibility, however, could be that the skin of the anemonefish lacks a biochemical substance that triggers the discharge of the nematocysts, as happens with other fish.

Astonishing Family Pattern

We all have seen pictures of large groups of anemonefish in one and the same anemone. The pattern, however, is always identical: The biggest, and at the same time dominant, fish is the only female. In second position ranks the second biggest animal, the male. Only these two fish are responsible for reproduction. The large number of smaller, exclusively male anemonefish rank below, their growth having stopped due to social oppression. When the dominant female dies, the second ranking, sexually mature male changes sex within only one week, and becomes the new leading female. Before the female deposits its eggs, the male cleans the substrate at the bottom disk of the anemone. After the successful deposit of the up to 250 eggs, the male is responsible for keeping them clean and for fanning them with its pectoral fins. Only one week later, the young fish hatch as larvae. They tend to stay near their place of birth and leave to seek the vital protection of the anemone as a young fish, two or three weeks later.

A Well-Know Species Far Beyond Divers Circles

The Disney production “Finding Nemo” rose to stardom a particularly loveable species of anemonefish - the orange Ocellaris clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) or false Percula clownfish, which can be found in the Western Pacific and North of Australia. Their look-alike, the orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) or true clown anemonefish is native to the greater region of New Guinea. The areas of distribution of both clownfish species actually do not overlap, and to correctly identify the fish you should examine them carefully. Characteristic feature: Contrary to the false clownfish, the three white stripes of the true clownfish are clearly outlined in black. Unfortunately, the popularity of this lovable species jumped after the film “Nemo” with many kids wanting their own Nemo in their aquarium. This trend had disastrous consequences for both species. Maybe we, as “experts”, can do our part for the protection of the clownfish and warn our friends of such developments. Clownfish - from local breeders, if possible - should only be held by experienced seawater aquarians. But everyone must search their conscience when deciding whether nine out of ten clownfish have to die on their way to the pet shop for one fish to be sold. And, even if kept according to their needs, the clownfish will have a shorter and probably much sadder life in the aquarium than they would have in their underwater habitat.