The Feistiest of Reef Fish- Damselfish
Of the approximately 5,000 species of fish found along the coral reef, perhaps none are as feisty and territorial as the damselfish. Notoriously aggressive, these fish are known to nip at anything that comes between them and their food source. Likewise, these fish fiercely guard their egg clutches during spawning; quickly attacking anything that comes within close proximity. There are approximately 315 species of damselfish found worldwide, 14 species of which are found in the tropical waters of the Western Atlantic. Of those, the Sergeant Major is one of the better known and abundant species.
Found throughout temperate waters of the world, damselfish are palm-sized fish that rarely exceed six inches in length. They are brightly colored in shades of orange, red, yellow and blue, and are characterized with forked tails and a nostril on each side of the head. Attracted to the reef for protective habitat and food, damselfish feed on algal mats found among the coral, as well as other plant matter and small animals suspended in the water. With a tiny mouth lined with sharp teeth, damselfish are skilled at grinding their teeth on algae, resulting in an audible clicking sound.
It is during feeding time that the aggressive behavior of the damselfish becomes very apparent. Competing with parrotfish and surgeonfish for algae, the tiny, but quick damselfish are known to be formidable challengers, antagonizing their rivals until they leave the area. The Blue tang, however, is one of the few fish that has learned how to avoid the nips of the damselfish by feeding in large swimming groups.
Fortunately, because of the curious and aggressive behavior of the Sergeant Major, and Damselfish in general, scientists continue to focus much attention on these fish. Currently in Belize and throughout the world, damselfish have a healthy population and are not threatened. However, just like all other living creatures in the sea, the damselfish is dependent on many factors, such as a healthy reef environment, for it to continue to thrive.
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