If you want to make a successful business, it's important to provide you with a valuable service, and it's best to get out there.
This is true if you're a cleaner shrimp. These industrious crustaceans are set to be used in tropical coral reefs, where they pick parasites and dead skin off the fish.
It's a nutritious but dangerous job. Some of these clients – that's the scientific term. And If you're a client, it's just a little bit too much more of a snack.
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Eleanor Caves, a postdoctoral bioscientist at the University of Exeter and the paper's lead author, has been puzzled by cleaner shrimp for years. Although the shrimps' bright colors and tanks are subject to popular aquarium pets, they are highly understudied in the wild, they said.
The relationship between cleaner shrimp and their clients is generally considered as a mutualism: an association between two species where both benefit. In this case, the shrimp gets a meal, and the fish gets a touch-up. Other mutualistic teams include ants and acacia trees, pollinators and flowers, and anemones and clown fish.
But it's more difficult to understand teamwork between cleaner shrimp and, say, goatfish, which Dr. Caves said they were "gobble crustaceans."
"It's hard to know how a system could evolve," she said. "The cleaner shrimp should not be cleaned at all because they ought to just be eaten."
In this study, Dr. Caves and her colleagues focused on a hard-to-find species, Lysmata amboinensis, or the Pacific cleaner shrimp.
After filming and watching 242 fish visits, they noticed the cleaner shrimp-turned-off stations in the Red Sea near Eilat, Israel, and trained cameras on them percent of the time – far more often than they did harmless ones. Fair enough.
But when a shrimp did take on a scarier client, it often began to interact with a signal: "It would bend its front legs and waving them back and forth." Pacific cleaner shrimp have white front legs that contrast with the rest of their body; in videos, it looks like they're performing a color guard solo. "It's amazing how much it stands out, even at depth," Caves said.
The researchers then exposed shrimp in their lab to various silhouettes meant to represent clients of different sizes.
"It's kind of like they were like, 'Oh no!'" Said Catherine Chen, author of the paper, who designed this part of the experiment while she was undergraduate at Duke University.
The experiment joins a few others that are sought to uncover how these shrimps are to work with clients across a strong power differential. The researchers have signal said Lucille Chapuis, a postdoctoral researcher at the
Signaling may help to explain another mystery: why cleaner shrimp look so flashy when they are colorblind. All those bright hues and patterns may need a message across to fish that differentiates the shrimp from prey, dr. Caves said. Perhaps it's what customer service looks like when your life depends on it.