Who cleans the cleaners?

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We all know that Bluestreak cleaner wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus) clean other fishes of ectoparasites, but who cleans the cleaner wrasses themselves?

In a recent issue of the online journal Marine Biodiversity Records, Gillian Clague, Cait Newport and Alexandra Grutter report on an observation of one cleaner wrasse cleaning another in the reefs around Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef.

One cleaner wrasse was observed to pose with its head up and fins erect, a posture used by other client fishes to advertise the desire to be cleaned. The cleaning wrasse inspected the one to be cleaned for 20 seconds.

Although the authors were not certain of the sex of each individual involved, they deduced that both were female, based on their similarity in size (Bluestreak cleaner wrasses begin life as females and later change sex to become male, so males tend to be much larger than females).

The observation of one cleaner wrasse cleaning a conspecific suggests that the intraspecific interactions of this species are not yet fully understood. Bluestreak cleaner wrasses of the same size and social class frequently behave aggressively to one another and the authors' observation suggests that individuals of similar rank may also cooperate and partially rely on each other for cleaning.

For more information, see the paper: Clague, GE, C Newport and AS Grutter (2011) Intraspecific cleaning behaviour of adult cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus (Perciformes: Labridae). Marine Bioidversity Records 4, e56, doi:10.1017/S175526721100056X

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