Goatfish gang up on their prey

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Gangs of Yellow Saddle goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus) hunt together cooperatively to catch their food according to new research.

Scientists studying the behaviour of the species in the Red Sea off Egypt observed co-ordinated hunting from groups of goatfish where individual fish chased prey around a coral formation while the rest of the group blocked off potential escape routes. This insight into the goatfishes' hunting strategy puts them in a select group of species known to collaborate for hunts.

Yellow Saddle goatfish live in groups based on size instead of genetic relationship, with fish of similar sizes forming each gang. Previous studies have shown that this strategy may improve group coordination as well as efficiency in swimming.

Observations by the scientists showed that the majority of the fish's day was spent hunting, with member of the group taking on a specific role in each hunt. Typically a single fish would target and chase a prey item and as this happened the rest of the group would work together as a team to help the first fish succeed with 'blockers' spreading out to prevent the prey escaping while the 'chaser' was left to focus on its pursuit.

The goatfish showed a flexible approach to their hunting with fish swapping roles from 'blocker' to 'chaser' to ensure all the gang had a chance to feed.

Collaborative hunting has so far been identified in only a small number of species most of which are mammals such as cetaceans, chimpanzees and lions as well as some bird species but very few fish have been recorded working together to hunt.

Until this study the most complex form of cooperative hunting in a single fish species was seen in Mormyrops anguilloides, a species of weakly electrical fish from Africa which has been observed to swim in formation while searching for prey, while groupers,(Plectropomus pessuliferus) and Giant moray eels,(Gymnothorax javanicus) have been seen apparently coordinating their hunting for mutual benefit in the Red Sea.

For more information see the paper; Carine Str¸bin, Marc Steinegger, Redouan Bshary (2011) 'On Group Living and Collaborative Hunting in the Yellow Saddle Goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus)'. Ethology doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2011.01966.x

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