The Fish That Hunt Like Lions

Yellow saddle goatfish collaborate when one finds prey to chase

Yellow saddle goatfish
Yellow saddle goatfish Wikimedia Commons

Lions, orcas, dolphins, hyenas, some hawks and several other species collaborate when they hunt, with each individual in the group performing different but complementary actions with the singular goal of bringing down prey. Now we can add a species of fish to the list of collaborative hunters–the yellow saddle goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus), which lives in the shallow waters of the Red Sea.

A group of researchers (who report their findings in Ethology) traveled to Egypt and spent a lot of time snorkeling, watching the goatfish, recording their behavior and taking photographs of the fish. Yellow saddle goatfish are easy to recognize underwater due to their size, color and pattern of black spots on their body and fins. Individual fish can be distinguished in photos due to differences in the shape of the blue lines around their eyes.

The goatfish often congregate in groups. And when one fish starts accelerating towards a prey fish, other members of the group join in the hunt. These “blockers” spread out over the reef to cut off the prey fish’s escape routes, giving their buddy, the “chaser,” a better chance at making a successful catch.

Other species of goatfish eat only invertebrates, while the yellow saddle variety chases other fish. The researchers suggest that the collaborative hunting behavior is essential for the yellow saddle goatfish to successfully hunt other fish on the reef and that the behavior may have evolved to allow them to exploit that source of food.

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