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  • Jennifer has contributed to Science since 2010, covering an assortment of stories in palaeontology, evolutionary biology, and science policy from the UK and Canada.
 

ScienceShot: Fish Sleep Soundly in Mucous Cocoons

16 November 2010 7:01 pm
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A Grutter/University of Queensland; (inset) Nico Smit/University of Johannesburg

Even the ocean has bedbugs. Tiny blood-sucking crustaceans (inset) roam the seas, nipping at the scales of passing fish. But the parrotfish (Chlorurus sordidus) has evolved an unusual defense. According to a study published online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the fish spend up to an hour spinning cocoons from their own mucous before they settle down to slumber for the night. These transparent, gelatinous balls of spit are large enough to envelope the fish from head to tail. By gently pushing fish from their cocoons without waking them, researchers showed that those sleeping without protection were 80% more likely to be bitten by the crustaceans than those they left untouched. Producing these mucous membranes costs just over 2% of the fish's daily energy budget; apparently a worthwhile investment against things that go bite in the night.

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