Lionfish hunt together, share food equally


This video is called Zebra Lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra).

From New Scientist:

Zoologger: The fish that kill with special-ops signals

25 June 2014 by Michael Slezak

Species: Dendrochirus zebra

Habitat: Hanging out in the Great Barrier Reef and Indonesia; waging war in Caribbean reefs

It is night-time on the reef. With its Fu Manchu moustache and weed-like fins a lionfish blends into the swaying seaweed.

Spotting a school of little fish swimming slowly through the coral, the lionfish quickly scans around for hungry accomplices. Swimming to them one-by-one it gives a quick wiggle of its tail fin and then a slow undulating wave of its pectoral fins. The accomplices respond with a simple wave of their pectoral fins. The hunt is on.

Together the gang approach the fish, which don’t seem to see the lionfish even from up close. Using their fan-like fins they herd the prey into a corner before taking it in turns to dart into the school, each time swallowing their meal whole. Their bellies full, the conspirators part ways into the tropical night.

Invisible fish

Lionfish are venemous, and have few natural predators. They are also so adept at camouflage that Oona Lönnstedt at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, and colleagues recently showed that they seem to be invisible to their prey. In fact, when hunting alone, they convince their prey to swim into their mouths by blowing a stream of water towards them.

But it turns out that they have another trick up their sleeves: very good communication skills.

Studying lionfish both in the lab and on the Great Barrier Reef, Lönnstedt and colleagues found that the fish sometimes conducted a distinctive fin display. Whenever there was another lionfish nearby, the fish that spotted the prey used this signal and up to four other lionfish responded and joined in the hunt.

The signal was only seen prior to a group hunt, which suggests it is a method of communication – a kind of special operations signalling with their fins. “As an intentional signal, it’s very rare. It implies that there’s a complex cognitive ability in fish,” Lönnstedt says.

All fish are equal

Lönnstedt also found that group hunts were more fruitful than solo efforts. The lionfish also shared the food completely evenly. “That blew our minds,” she says. “That’s the first time that’s been proven in animals. Usually lions or hyenas will catch prey and share it hierarchically. The top animal takes the lion’s share, so to speak.”

Group foraging and hunting have been seen in all sorts of animals, from chimpanzees to bees and eels. But very little has been done into how it is triggered, says Amanda Ridley from the University in Western Australia in Perth. “We have scores of papers about cooperation, but we don’t know how they do it,” she says. “This paper has nicely encapsulated the fin display. It goes to the other and says ‘hey how about it, let’s go fish together’.”

Journal reference: Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0281

Correction, 26 June 2014: When this article was first published, we mistakenly described Dendrochirus zebra as an invasive species.

See also here. And here.

About these ads

One thought on “Lionfish hunt together, share food equally

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s