Tubelip wrasses get their name from their weird-looking lips which help them munch on coral, their favorite meal. However, scientists have been wondering how these fish are capable to do that for quite a long time. Now, they managed to reveal the mystery and presented it in a study published in the journal Current Biology.
Coral is hard to consume
Most fishes usually avoid eating coral, since the creature is hard to consume. It is made up of several small polyps with brittle skeletons, and each one of them issues a venomous sting when touched. Moreover, they also secrete a slimy mucus, making them hard to grab. However, tubelip wrasses are one example of a predator species which manages to feast on the extreme little creature.
What is different about this species is the fact that it has a unique way of eating coral. Other corallivore fish, such as butterflyfish, peck at the coral in a hen-like manner. On the other hand, pufferfish have strong teeth which allow to bite into the strong skeleton. But tubelip wrasses neither nibble nor chomp at the corals.
Lips are tubelip wrasses’ secret
The secret lies in the odd lips, which give the fish the strange appearance so different from its other relatives. By using an electron microscope, researchers managed to get a closer look at the thick lips and found something interesting. They were covered in lamellae, which allowed for the production of mucus.
This mucus has two roles. First of all, it annihilates the stinginess of the coral’s mucus. Then, it allows the fish to perform suction and grasp the pieces of coral. However, the tubelip wrasse seems to enjoy damaged coral more than the actual polyps. These areas produce more mucus than the rest.
This is the first time when researchers take a close look at how this fish species uses its thick protruding lips, highlighting a new way to eat coral. Also, the study emphasizes the idea that we should protect coral reefs, since protecting them means preserving the animals which feed on it.
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