National Geographic

Need A Laugh? Clownfish!

Actually, they're not very funny. Not at all funny, really. But they are pretty — and really weird: Did you know that clownfish change sexuality?? An article in the January National Geographic magazine gives a close-up view of the little orange guys immortalized by Nemo. And David Doubilet — who I'm convinced is half-photographer, half-fish — is the man behind the underwater camera.

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    Bleached by high water temperatures, this bubble-tipped anemone is largely devoid of the algae that provide color as well as energy from photosynthesis. Premnas Biaculeatus Spine-Cheek Clownfish; Entacmaea Quadricolor; Papua New Guinea
    All photos by David Doubilet/National Geographic
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    A male tomato clownfish tends his field of developing eggs like a gardener, scooping away ones with dead embryos. He oxygenates the eggs by fanning them with his pectoral fins. Amphiprion Frenatus; Philippines
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    As dusk falls, a magnificent sea anemone contracts, resembling a terra-cotta pot. Enough of its tentacles are exposed for the resident percula clownfish, which can grow to about 3 inches long, to burrow in for safe haven. Amphiprion Percula (Percula Clownfish): Heteractis Magnifica: Great Barrier Reef, Australia
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    Bound in an alliance of mutual benefit, clownfish and their host anemones are the crown jewels of coral reefs. Amphiprion Akallopisos (Skunk Clownfish); Heteractis Magnifica (Magnificent Sea Anemone); photographed in Seychelles
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    The bubble-tipped anemone is home to more species of clownfish — 14 — than any other. Here a tomato clownfish floats among tentacles colored by algae, a sign of good health. Amphiprion frenatus; Entacmaea quadricolor; Okinawa, Japan
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    A raft of juvenile Maldives clownfish holds steady against the current. The largest two in the group will become the anemone's breeding pair. Amphiprion nigripes; Heteractis magnifica (magnificent sea anemone); Maldives

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Doubilet has been photographing underwater since age 12. So, with 50 years of practice, one might say he has perfected the art of bringing far-flung, deep-sea environments to the page. The photos in this series illustrate the symbiotic relationship between clownfish and their host anemones. The fish are impervious to the anemones' stinging tentacles, which in turn are fertilized by fish feces.

And they are odd little creatures. There's no explaining the slimy membrane that protects them from stings. And among the occupants of each anemone are only two sexually dominant fish. If the dominant female (always the larger of the two) dies, then the dominant male becomes a female. Weird. The strange science is almost secondary, though, in light of these brilliant pictures.

You can learn more on ngm.com. And you should definitely stop by Doubilet's Web site.

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