reefs magazine

Fall 2007

Fish Tales: Undertakers of the Reef

By Jesus Zavala This article is dedicated to the memory of my Burgundy hermit crab may he R.I.P. I assume it passed of natural causes or some kind of mishap in the swamp I call my tank. For a couple of days I noticed him at the same spot perched on a ledge of live rock. As the days passed I thought nothing of it. Then came the day for tank maintenance. As I blew the dust from the live rock I decided to move the hermit and as I picked up the shell swoosh, out it came— the sad remains of my favorite crustacean. It was the first death in the tank and I decided to leave the crabs body in there for others to nip and snack on– I thought this to be a fitting burial as nothing should go to waste but skimmate in a reef tank. As expected, the cavalry arrived in short order—-hermits, shrimps and fish started to pick at the crabs body as it fell to the sand bed—all but one, my Maroon Clownfish. I thought she would be the first to rush in and take a nice piece of crab meat because she is generally quite aggressive, but much to my surprise something quite remarkable happened, something I never expected to see. I should be used to this by now because the more I watch the life and death on my reef, the oddest and most unpredictable things occur. Mustering all her inherit aggression, the Maroon clown began to fight back all the fiends that were furiously picking on the carcass, as if they hadn’t been fed in weeks. One by one, slapping hermits and shrimps aside, she took on the fish; a sixline (aka El Diablo), and a small yellow tang. This might all seem quite normal and expected as the Maroon coveted the tasty treat for herself or did she? The brawl ended and the victorious Clownfish just hovered over the lifeless body. It moved left, it moved right and then swam down, picked up the hermit’s body and took it all the way back up to the piece of live rock it’s shell was on. In an act that seemed to attempt to right some blasphemous cosmic transgression, the clown gently placed the body right by the shell and swam away. Wow…that was cool and odd and perhaps in some ways poignant.
I remember asking on-line on Manhattan Reefs if this is something that was normal or if it was something others have experienced and a Reefer/Mod name Deanos told me that “Maroon Clowns are the undertakers of the Reef ”. I was thinking to myself like wow, this hobby is getting more enjoyable each day…but alas, he was just kidding.

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