Surgeonfish-Sharp as a Razor
Of the spectacular fish found in the sea, there are many that possess intricate color patterns, interesting body shapes, and bizarre behavior. My favorite fish, however, happens to be one of the most common and seemingly ordinary fish found in this area. If you have snorkeled or dove the coral reef of Belize, then you have surely seen the fish I am referring to swim by in a large blur of intense and richly hued blue. These fish, known as Blue Tangs, are striking in their simplicity and for this reason were the first to catch my eye on one of my earliest Caribbean underwater experiences. In addition to their stunning and vibrant beauty, these fish share many interesting traits with other species of the Surgeonfish family.
Named for extremely sharp and movable spines located on each side of their tail that are thought to resemble a surgeonās scalpel, Surgeonfish inhabit coastal waters in the western Atlantic off of New York and Caribbean waters south to Brazil. The spines of the Surgeonfish usually lie flat in a groove, but if the fish is disturbed the spines become raised and can inflict serious injury on enemies (including unsuspecting fishermen). The most common reason a Surgeonfish would become defensive, though, is when it competes with other fish for its primary source of food: algae.
As an example of one of the most important interdependent relationships that exist in the coral reef ecosystem, Surgeonfish, as well as other fish such as Damselfish, use their sharp-edged teeth to clean the coral reef of algae. Algae has a tendency to grow quickly and can eventually smother and "choke" a reef to death if it is not kept in check. Grazing fish, such as Surgeonfish, are critical to maintaining the balance of algae cover on the reef, while at the same time, supplying themselves with a source of energy.
Surgeonfish are yet another example of the beautiful and diverse fish that inhabit the coral reef ecosystem. Itās always a good reminder, though, that these fish do not exist purely for their beauty- they also play a critical role in keeping the reef healthy.
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