Imagine you are sitting with a man at a restaurant and taking a nibble of something that he feels is not right and ticks you off, what would you do?
Now replicate this social setting in marine life. Labroides dimidiatus don’t take nonsense from their female companions/compatriots. They whack the poor female fish if they as much as eye some parasite or salivate over mucus underwater.
Live Science conducted a study at the Zoological Society of London regarding this “three-party dilemma” – man, woman and target using an underwater plate to represent the client fish:
- The plate contained both fish flakes and prawns, with the latter being the much preferred cuisine.The researchers took away the plate if any of the fish ate a prawn. They saw that the male cleaner fish—even in this unfamiliar lab setting—would punish, or chase away, the female fish if the females ate a prawn. Once the females had been chastised, they were less likely to gulp down prawns.
Apparently, this is not altruistic because by saving the client, the male ensures that he gets good grub for himself. As a bonus he is covered with the halo of being protector and patriarch.
The docile female just flaps her fins and goes hungry aiming to be marine life’s Kate Moss. I should think it has its benefits if the larger fish avoid skeletal food and these females are saved. It could soon prove to be a woman’s world down there.