Nemo knows how to go home

The clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris), a species that became famous thanks to the Disney – Pixar film “Finding Nemo”, is a fascinating animal with still many aspects to discover.
A new study, published in Scientific reports, reveals that this fish uses an internal biological clock to orient itself, which can change over the course of its life.

New scientific discoveries have been made on the clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris), a species that became famous thanks to the Disney – Pixar film “Discovering Nemo”.
Despite the cinematic fame that this little fish has achieved, there are still many unknown behavioral mechanisms that arouse much interest to researchers. To shed light on new aspects of Nemo’s life is a research team from the University of Oldenburg in collaboration with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Department of Life Sciences and Biotechnology of the University of Ferrara, which focused on the mechanism that allows little Nemo to go “home”, that is to the coral reef after spending time in the open sea.

The study, recently published in Scientific Reports, revealed that behavior is based on an internal biological clock that changes during an individual’s life stages.
Nemo Comes Home: The Life of the Clown Fish The clownfish, with its unmistakable orange appearance with black and white stripes, lives in the Pacific Ocean and the East Indian Ocean. It is born inside the coral reef, or reef, and immediately after the eggs hatch, the larvae leave their home to go to the open sea, where they will spend some time, and then return to the reef and start settling.

Here comes one of the most interesting aspects of this species: the young find an anemone that will become their home and where they will be well protected from predators. Thus a symbiotic relationship is established between the fish and the anemone: the fish finds a home and a shelter and at the same time seems to remove parasites, improving the health of the cnidarian and helping it to defend itself from other fish. Furthermore, the clownfish is “immune” to the venom of the anemone’s tentacles, so that it cannot be stung.

But how does he orient himself and return to the reef after a long time in the open sea?
The study was conducted in the laboratory through the observation of fish thanks to high resolution cameras and molecular studies. The researchers focused on the mechanisms that allow the fish to orient themselves and return to the coral reef, suggesting that to do so they use the position of the sun using a biological clock that allows them to “measure time”, already active in the larval age.

The discovery, which took place thanks to in vitro studies on the responses of cells to light, was followed by another even more interesting one: this clock, suggests Professor Cristiano Bertolucci of the University of Ferrara, can change during the larval stages of fish. The animal is in fact nocturnal until it returns to the coral reef, and once settled in the anemone it adapts to its “rhythms” becoming diurnal too. This is a very important discovery, which highlights new aspects of Nemo’s life, a species as fascinating as it is still mysterious.

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