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Cheating Fish

January 19, 2010

Some fish punish each other for “bad” behavior.


Fishy crime stoppers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
Cleaner fish work in male/female pairs, nibbling parasites from larger, "client" fish. But there’s always the temptation to cheat by taking a tasty bite out of the big fish. Research fellow Nichola Raihani at the Zoological Society of London, reports that when a female cleaner fish takes such liberties, the male will punish her.

RAIHANI (Zoological Society of London):
If you think about what happens when a female cheats a client, the client leaves. And what that means for the male is that dinner leaves as well, so if the male can somehow dissuade the female from this uncooperative or bad behavior, then he has less chance of his dinner leaving before he’s finished eating it, if you like.

Punishing another animal’s bad behavior to teach it a lesson is fairly sophisticated. Seeing this in fish suggests that complex social interactions may have developed earlier than was previously thought. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.