Lionfish dance can recruit partner for hunting

Special shimmy and fin flares can start cooperative attack

7:05pm, June 24, 2014

GONE FISHING  Two predatory lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra) from Australia swim together on their way to mount a joint attack on smaller fish. Lionfish species may turn out to be good cooperators.

Lionfish may be surprisingly sophisticated at hunting with partners. They shimmy their tails and fan out their fins in a signal that recruits a buddy, and they might even take turns gulping prey.

Divers have reported venomous, leafy-looking lionfish seeming to work together while corralling littler fish. But behavioral ecologist Oona Lönnstedt says that she and her colleagues are the first to test the behavior experimentally.

In a lab setup, Dendrochirus zebra lionfish from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef reacted to the sight of prey by swimming away and approaching another lionfish, which was caged and couldn’t see the prey fish. Hovering just in front of the second fish, the one that had seen the prey performed a distinctive sequence of gestures as if to say, “C’mon! Let’s go get ’em.” When researchers loosed the two lionfish on the prey, each attacker caught a bigger dinner than a typical lionfish hunting alone.

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