Creature Feature: Clownfish


Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…  and indeed, these funny little fish can!  Children and adults alike fell in love with Marlin and Nemo, the clownfish from Finding Nemo.  Since clownfish, Amphiprion percul, are MY favorite fish, I’m excited to help you learn more about them!  There are 28 species that can be located in the western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea. Clownfish, which are also called false anemonefish, are bright orange with three white bars.

Our posts have been largely focused on amazing sea life that exhibits some kind of symbiosis, and my beloved clownfish are no different.  They live in mutualistic symbiosis with sea anemones.  You should remember from our other posts that symbiosis is the relationship between two different living organisms where one lives on the other and one or both depends upon the other. Mutualistic symbiosis is where each reaps some benefit from the presence of the other. For a long time, many scientists believed that the clownfish got the better end of the deal than the anemone. However, recent studies seem to indicate otherwise.

Clownfish coat their bodies with special “anemone-proof” mucus so that the anemone toxin will not affect the fish, allowing them to live in the anemone and hide from predators.  Talk about a home security system!  This relationship becomes mutualism when the clownfish perform what we will scientifically refer to as a “wiggle dance.” It is a display in which clownfish swim around flapping their fins. This causes the anemone to react, increasing oxygen intake and resulting in higher metabolism and growth rate.

It is commonly believed that clownfish live and breed in the same area their whole life, never venturing to distant corners of the world, like 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.  However, a recent study has shown that young clownfish may be far more mobile than we ever suspected.  Researchers at the University of Exeter documented baby clownfish movement and recorded them traveling hundreds of kilometers across the open ocean.  That’s pretty far, especially if you have a lucky fin!  Check out the University of Exeter for more information ( and

After the release of Finding Nemo, many people wanted to have their very own clownfish for a pet.  While they make a cute addition to the home, many pet owners did not fully understand the particular steps and regimens necessary to keep these saltwater fish alive.  In addition to this, sometimes fishers would collect all the clownfish from one anemone, decreasing the anemone’s chances of survival.

Tips for buying and keeping a healthy, happy clownfish:

  1. Do your homework! Read all about how to keep clownfish and anemones.  
  2. Know who you are buying from!  The most sustainable way to purchase a clownfish is to buy fish that were grown in a lab or aquaculture, leaving the wild fish to live in their habitat.
  3. Consult the experts! Talk with your local aquaria stores to learn more.


Edited by KC O’Shea

Photography by Hayley Usedom


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