JUN 24, 2017 09:45 AM PDT

This Fish Has Unique Lips That Protect it From Coral Stings

There aren’t many reef-feeding fish out there, mostly because coral reefs have developed defense mechanisms to prevent becoming a fish’s lunch. Among those, some have external jellyfish-like nematocyst-laden tissues that deliver quite the unfriendly sting to any sea creature that tries to take a bite.

On the other hand, there are a small handful of fish that have evolved to outperform the reef’s defenses. One example, a fish dubbed Labropsis australis (more colloquially known as the tubelip wrasse), uses a special adaptation in its plump, protruding lips to its advantage. It’s described in a study published in the journal Current Biology.

The tubelip wrasse has unique lips that allow it to suck on coral without being stung.

Image Credit: Victor Huertas and David Bellwood

According to the research, the lips secrete a lubricative mucus that helps protect the fish from harm in the process of nibbling on the coral. Any other fish without this adaptation would feel the wrath of the coral’s passive self-defense mechanism, and be scared away, or worse, injured.

"The lips are like the gills of a mushroom but covered in slime," says David Bellwood of James Cook University in Australia. "It is like having a running nose but having running lips instead."

Related: The Texan coastline is littered with dead fish

To get an understanding of how the tubelip wrasse’s lips worked, they used an electron scanning microscope to obtain close-up images of their self-defense mechanism, and it would be an understatement to say that they were quite unique compared to other wrasse species that don’t feed on coral.

A close-up of the lips on the tubelip wrasse.

Image Credit: Victor Huertas and David Bellwood

They’re described as being a lot like ‘the gills’ found on the underside of a mushroom, only slimy due to the mucus excretion.

The lips are used as a suction mechanism so that the tubelip wrasse can ‘kiss’ the coral without being stung. As they are doing so, they are believed to suck the mucus out of the coral, which is their primary source of nourishment. This is known as suction feeding.

"One always assumes that fishes feed using their teeth, but, like us, the lips can be an essential tool," Bellwood says. "Imagine feeding without lips or cheeks; the same applies to fishes."

Related: This fish exhibits natural androgenesis

The research is interesting, but it raises a lot of questions. For example, are there any other fish species that feed in the same or a similar way? And do tubelip wrasse’s feed on anything else? These are questions that additional research might be able to provide more insight on.

Source: Popular Science

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 23, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 23, 2019
The Science Behind Why Pollen Makes You Sneeze
You’ve undoubtedly heard of something called ‘Hay Fever.’ This term effectively describes the allergy-like symptoms that many people get...
OCT 23, 2019
Health & Medicine
OCT 23, 2019
Gene Linked To Cannabis Abuse
Research shows that there may be a specific gene associated with a higher risk of cannabis abuse. The same gene is responsible for the so-called nicotine r...
OCT 23, 2019
Earth & The Environment
OCT 23, 2019
Will Banana Crops Survive a Changing Climate?
Climate change impacts, most notably rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, are impacting agricultural production around the world. It&rs...
OCT 23, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 23, 2019
Wild Wheat Genes are the Answer to Climate Change Food Shortage
By 2050, the UN has estimated that wheat production needs to increase by 60% in order to feed the world’s population, estimated to reach around 9.6 b...
OCT 23, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 23, 2019
How a Venus Flytrap Works
Most people think of plants as being at the bottom of the food chain, but the Venus Flytrap defies this oversimplified way of thinking by devouring meat. W...
OCT 23, 2019
Neuroscience
OCT 23, 2019
Scientists Create Memory of Courtship Song in Zebra Finches
A new study published in Science shows how a neural circuit in Zebra finches, involved in forming the learning of a courtship song, can be manipulated.&nbs...
Loading Comments...