Quirks & Quarks

Damselfish in Distress Call Their Enemies

Young damselfish being attacked release an attractant to draw more predators, and then attempt to escape in the chaos.

Defenceless fish provokes predators to fight over it to escape.

Damselfish are reef fish who call their enemies for rescue (Oona Lönnstedt)
Damselfish are common to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. During the juvenile stage of their lives, they are naive to their many predators, and most do not make it to adulthood.

But a new study by Dr. Oona Lonnstedt, from the Department of Ecology and Genetics at Uppsala University in Sweden, has found that young damselfish deploy an innovative defence mechanism, when they are in the jaws of a predator.

They release a chemical into the water that attracts many other predators. In the ensuing frenzy over a potential meal, the captured damselfish is often able to escape to the shelter of the reef. In fact, the damsel's chemical escape plan has a 40-percent success rate.

Related Links

Paper in Royal Society Proceedings B
- Uppsala University release
- Australian Research Council release
- National Geographic blog
- Discover magazine blog