How Nemo got his stripes


Clownfish variation reflects evolutionary pressures, research finds.


Clownfish colours include yellow, black, orange and red. Stripes range from zero to three. Clockwise from left: Amphiprion ephippium, A. frenatus, A. ocellaris, and A. bicinctus.

Clownfish colours include yellow, black, orange and red. Stripes range from zero to three. Clockwise from left: Amphiprion ephippium, A. frenatus, A. ocellaris, and A. bicinctus.

John E. Randall

Coral reef fish display all sorts of patterns and colours. One of the most recognisable is that of the clownfish – a group of 30 species belonging to two genera, Premnas and Amphiprion. They display an amazing range of variations within their genus, which incorporates over 30 species.

The species display an amazing range of colour and pattern variations, based around the familiar Finding Nemo template. The number of iconic white stripes varies from zero to three, and develop over the lifetime of individual fish, starting at the head and progressing towards the tail.

A new study led by Pauline Salis from France’s Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls-sur-Mer finds that stripe number and colour patterns in different species reflect long-term developmental, ecological and social pressures. The results are also play a key role in in species recognition.

The research is published in the journal BMC Biology.

  1. https://bmcbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12915-018-0559-7
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