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Specialized Characteristics of a Clownfish

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Clownfish are a tropical fish found in abundant numbers in the warmer sections of the Pacific Ocean -- particularly near Fiji -- as well as the Indian Ocean near Thailand, the Maldives and Burma and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. For reasons unknown to scientists, clownfish do not live in the Atlantic Ocean.


Clownfish can grow up to five inches in length, but most are smaller, averaging about two inches in length. Most clownfish feature a solid orange color on their bodies with three white stripes -- one at the head, middle and tail -- that are banded by black outline. Some variations do occur with red, yellow, brown or black solid colored bodies but clown fish featuring these colors are not as common as those sporting the traditional orange.

Females Dominate Socially

Clownfish live in a social group called a school as do other fish. What makes their social group different is that all individuals begin life as males. Only later, as the fish grow, one of the males within the social group changes gender becoming a female whom dominates the entire group. Scientifically speaking, this ability is called labels clown fish as protandrous hermaphrodites. While some other fish species have this ability, the leading role of the female clownfish is much more defined in the clownfish species. She is the largest fish in the group. Her needs dictate the group's activity.

Who Gets To Mate

Only one male within the social group gets to mate with the female. Clownfish are monogamous until one of the partners die. The male builds a nest -- in most cases near a sea anemone -- to facilitate the pair's reproductive activities. He chases or herds the female to the nest encouraging her to lay eggs. The other males of the social group remain at a distance guarding the couple's space. The chosen male then fertilizes the eggs and he guards them directly until they hatch in approximately one week.

Buddies With Sea Anemones

Clownfish and sea anemones have a mutually beneficial aquatic relationship. Clownfish make their primary residency in the stinging tentacles of sea anemones. It is a location affording clownfish protection from predators. In return, the clownfish eat parasites drawn to sea anemones. The constant movement of the clown fish around the sea anemone adds more turbulence to the surrounding water giving the sea anemone greater access to oxygen.