Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Cleaner fish really do clean

Abstract

The cleaning of client fish by cleaner fish is one of the most highly developed interspecific communication systems known. But even though it is a seemingly obvious mutualism1,2, several quantitative studies3,5 have failed to show any benefit for the clients, leading to the hypothesis that cleaner fish are ‘behavioural parasites’ that exploit the sensory system of the clients6 to obtain food, rather than to increase the client's fitness. The cleaner fish Labroides dimidiatus eats parasitic gnathiid isopods, which decline in number on the client fish Hemigymnus melapterus daily between dawn and sunset7,8. I find that the cleaner fish reduces parasite abundance, resulting in a 4.5-fold difference within 12 hours, supporting the hypothesis that cleaning behaviour is mutualistic.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Gnathiids on caged fish on reefs with and without cleaner fish.

References

  1. Trivers, R. L. Q. Rev. Biol. 46, 35–57 (1971).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Hammerstein, P. & Hoekstra, R. F. Nature 376, 121–122 (1995).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Losey, G. S. Symbiosis 4, 229–258 (1987).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Grutter, A. S. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 196, 285–298 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Grutter, A. S. Oecologia 111, 137–143 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Losey, G. S. Anim. Behav. 27, 669–685 (1979).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Grutter, A. S. Mar. Biol. Prog. Ser. 130, 61–70 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Grutter, A. S. Mar. Biol. (in the press).

  9. Clements, K. C. & Stephens, D. W. Anim. Behav. 50, 527–535 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Dugatkin, L. A. Cooperation Among Animals (Oxford Univ. Press, 1997).

  11. Paperna, I. & Por, F. D. Rapp. Comm. Int. Mer. Medit. 24, 195–197 (1977).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Grutter, A. Cleaner fish really do clean. Nature 398, 672–673 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/19443

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/19443

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing