Everyone at the barber’s shop

To live in the water does not necessarily mean being clean! Fortunately there are sea organisms that, during the course of evolution, were transformed into real “cleaners” of other fish. These animals live in a place known as the cleaning station, where other fish stop by in order to be completely cleaned from external parasites and remains of food, as if they were at the barber’s. There is a symbiosis in these areas, because the cleaners and the barbers both draw advantage from this : there is relief for the “clients” which also avoid getting any sickness, and food for the “barber”. In these particular areas the cleaner fish have learnt to perform a dance that distinguishes them from other fish, and also their colouring is quite recognizable: when a client comes near, the cleaner fish begin to wiggle about using only their side fins, so as to show their intention to the client and to avoid becoming the prey of the bigger fish. And here also the cleaner shrimps can be found, which have the same function as the “barbers” and they too have a particular colouring and dance in order to be recognized. The fish that need cleaning, once they have recognized their barbers, remain perfectly still while they receive these services and they also open their mouths and gills in order to allow access into the more important areas. And in this way the leftovers of the last meal are removed and also the parasites that are encrusted in the gills and on the skin. Often the “barber shops” are places that are easy to recognize because of their particular appearance: a large solitary madrepore in the middle of the coral reef, a large flat coral. The clients memorize the place and return every time they need, without ever leaving a tip!

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