Cleaner Clingfish Cleaning Common Seadragons Captured on Camera at Sydney

February 8, 2018 | Posted in: Bony fishes

Further to my article titled The study of fish cleaning behaviour in South Australian waters , at iNaturalist , Mark McGrouther shows two Common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus images by Andrew Trevor-Jones. Mark reports that the images show an Eastern Cleaner Clingfish, Cochleoceps orientalis on the side of a Common Seadragon.

An Eastern Cleaner Clingfish, Cochleoceps orientalis

on the side of a Common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus

(Image by Andrew Trevor-Jones)

(Source: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/9358/journal/14084 )

He says that the observation was made at ‘The Leap’, Kurnell, Sydney. Andrew has dived at this location more than 250 times over the last 7 years. He stated, “I have seen cleaner clingfish on common seadragons and pot-bellied seahorses a few times. I often don’t see them until looking at the photos but, in this case, I did see it and moved in for closer shots – as close as the seadragon would let me.”

The stomach contents of the Eastern Cleaner Clingfish have not been analysed but judging by its behaviour, the contents should be similar to those of the Western Cleaner Clingfish, Cochleoceps bicolor. This species feeds mostly on small crustaceans (predominantly isopods) which it presumably picks off the fish it ‘cleans’. Other bits and pieces on the host’s skin as well as mucous may also be consumed.

Mark says that he consulted clingfish expert Dr Kevin Conway about another one of Andrew’s observations which shows a different species of clingfish on a seahorse. Kevin stated that based on the shape of the snout, the fish is not an Eastern Cleaner Clingfish. The colour pattern would suggest that it may be a Pink Clingfish, Aspasmogaster costata.

Kevin reported that there are several other species of clingfishes that have also been reported to clean larger fishes, including species in the genera Lepadogaster and Diplecogaster.

Mark says “The Common Seadragon is endemic to Australian temperate marine waters. It occurs from the central New South Wales coast around the south coast of Australia to south-western Western Australia. The Eastern Cleaner Clingfish occurs in most shallow New South Wales marine waters. It is known from Seal Rocks, New South Wales to Mallacoota, Victoria.”

Some more of Andrew Trevor-Jones’ images of Clingfishes on Common Seadragons and Seahorses can be seen at iNaturalist .

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve is a keen diver, underwater explorer, photographer and is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

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