In 2003, the movie Finding Nemo was released to great success around the world. This film which grossed a total of $850 million and won an Academy Award for best animated film, centralizes around the adventures of a clownfish. Although these fish are popular in marine aquariums and commonly seen peaking through an anemone, the biological and ecological aspects of these fish are surprisingly complex. An article published by James Prosek in National Geographic titled Beautiful Friendship (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/) explores the life of these creatures made famous by the film industry.
Scientists have discovered twenty-nine different species of clownfish, and still have the potential to identify more. The most common species, Amphiprion percula, has the bright orange coloration with white stripes, as depicted in Finding Nemo. However, clownfish may come in an array of colors ranging from the classic orange, to yellow, red and purplish-brown. The normally white stripes may be black in some species. Although there is a wide variety of clownfish, all species are restricted to reef environments, ranging from East Africa to French Polynesia and Japan to Australia.
The life history of clownfish (also referred to as anemonefish by scientists) revolves around the ability to successfully locate an anemone. Clownfish eggs are laid by adults and receive parental protection until they hatch. For up to a few weeks the larvae will drift in ocean currents, when the larvae finally come to reach the bottom of the reef, each individual has only a few days to find an anemone, or else it will die. One anemone may house multiple individuals however, when more than one clownfish lives together a hierarchy is developed, headed by a dominant male and female. Clownfish are unique in which the female is the largest individual in each group. Following her death, the dominant male takes her role and becomes a female. This is especially unique in fish to have a male change into a female. Rather, it is more common to have a female change into a male.
Although wildly popular, the fame of the clownfish has come with a price. Overfishing of this species is a growing concern along with new more dangerous methods involving cyanide. This human behavior is destroying the natural habitat of clownfish. Luckily, more individuals are becoming informed of these practices and there is an increase of raising reef fish in captivity.
Full text of this article may be found at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/01/clownfish/prosek-text/1