In Plain Sight

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Animals use a variety of ingenious ways to hide themselves from predators or to catch prey.

Recently, scientists discovered that the long-bodied trumpetfish hides behind other fish species to approach and strike their prey.

“This will be the first non-human example of a predator using another animal to conceal itself in its approach to its prey,” researcher Sam Matchette told the Guardian.

Matchette and his team observed that the trumpetfish would swim alongside bigger fish when hunting and conducted a study to determine whether this behavior allowed the predator to sneak up to its desired meal.

Researchers created 3D plastic models of trumpetfish and stoplight parrotfish – the latter a large species that don’t feed on other fish – to investigate the predator’s tactics.

They used the models off the coast of Curaçao and moved them past colonies of bicolor damselfish, which are prey for trumpetfish.

When the trumpetfish model moved alone, damselfish approached and fled quickly. Yet, when it was paired with a fake parrotfish, damselfish inspected both models briefly and in smaller numbers, fleeing only when the models got closer. Similar behavior occurred with the parrotfish model alone.

The findings suggest that trumpetfish exploit their link to parrotfish to approach prey.

The authors said the study provides new insight into how some marine creatures conceal themselves amid higher ocean temperatures and the disappearance of coral reefs because of climate change.

“The degradation of reefs worldwide means that animals are being forced to adapt their behavior – they, therefore, may start seeking each other rather than the habitat itself (for concealment),” Matchette said.

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