Anemonefish, otherwise known as clownfish, belong to the Pomacentridae family. More specifically, they’re part of the genus Amphiprion. Consisting of at least 30 different species, the most notable aspect of anemonefish is their association with large sea anemones. The stinging cells, known as nematocysts, of sea anemones are fatal to most fish that come in contact. Anemonefish are immune to these deadly cells and will actually seek shelter and live inside sea anemones. Upon the first visit, an anemonefish will continuously rub along the tentacles of a sea anemone, creating a protective layer of mucus overtime. The relationship between the anemone and these fish could be considered symbiotic because the fecal matter of anemonefish provides nutrients to anemones, and the swimming of the fish around the anemone oxygenates the area. The fish may also feed off of parasites growing on the anemone. Because anemonefish are very brightly colored, they may have the added effect of luring predators close to the anemone for food. They’re usually brightly red or orange in coloration with white stripes or black shading.
Most anemonefish species live in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, or the western Pacific. There are none found currently in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, or Atlantic Ocean. While thousands of sea anemones exist, only about 10 species serves as hosts and territory for anemone fish. These anemones are found in the tropics or at least where the currents may carry warm, tropical waters. Their habitat is also in sunny areas, more easily with clear waters, so that the anemones may photosynthesize at depths of no deeper than 50 meters. Anemonefish are all born male, but they can change sex once later in life. The anemonefish will only turn into females if it’s to become the dominant female of a group.
While few species, these are rather popular fish among snorkelers, scuba divers, and aquarists. This is likely due to their bright coloration and the fact that rather than bolting from the vicinity, they will simply take shelter inside their anemone. Divers and snorkelers should be careful when trying to get a closer look though. The stinging cells of the sea anemone can harm or even burn humans. It is suggested that if a clownfish is to be collected for an exhibit or personal use, one should look into purchasing one that has been raised in captivity. Collectors will sometimes use cyanide, bleach, and other chemicals to stun fish for an easy capture in the wild. Unfortunately, these poisons may accidentally kill fish, reefs, and other reef life in an area.