Why big fish line up for small fish cleaner services?


Bluestreak cleaner wrasse fish cleaning another fish.


Mutualistic relationship


Fish line up, patiently waiting for their turn.

One of them may be an ocean sunfish, perhaps weighing a ton.

But what’s the attraction?

Even in the depths of the oceans there are little animals that plague fish much as ticks pester land animals.

Also, wounds may need to have dead flesh cleaned away.

Fish troubled by parasites or injuries definitely need cleaning services.

There are experts to do the job.

These are cleaner fish with just the right equipment—a mouth resembling a beak and teeth that function much like tweezers.

Among such cleaner fish like bluestreak cleaner wrasse fish (pictured above) there is no unemployment.

In the case of a sunfish, a shoal of little cleaner fish goes into action.

The operation is quite a banquet for the cleaners, as they feast on parasites, fungi, bacteria and the dead flesh of wounds.

Fish that are being cleaned cooperate fully.

They may raise first one gill cover, then another, so the little cleaner can get inside to perform its task.

Certain kinds of sharks open their mouths so that the cleaners can get at the irritating parasites inside.

The moray eel has been observed similarly permitting cleaners to work in its mouth.

When the job is done, the cleaner is permitted to leave in peace, even though other fish would become food for the moray eel.

Alone or in groups, certain shrimps skillfully get rid of skin parasites.

Even when the cleaner shrimp is hidden away in its hole, fish may be waiting in the area for him to come out.

If a fish has an injury near the tail, this part will be presented for attention first.

The fish will remain quite still as the shrimp crawls all over its body, pulling at parasites with claws and making incisions to reach those under the skin.

Even gigantic whales may have problems with parasites.

During their migrations sperm whales surface near areas where the gray phalarope, a small shore bird, is at home.

These birds land on the backs of surfaced whales and proceed to dine on the crustacean parasites that have taken up residence in the skin.