Animal Bad Boys: From Bully Fish to Alcoholic Flies

(Images via: Fruit Fly, Blackwell Publishing, Sea Baja)

Sometimes the most seemingly quiet and docile animals can have quite the mean streak in them when provoked or influenced by their surroundings. Consider the cases of cleaner fish, damselfish and fruit flies, all of which have demonstrated bad boy behavior that goes against their typical temperaments suggesting that they “wouldn’t harm a fly.”

Are Male Cleaner Fish A Bit Uptight?

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Sure, cleaner fish sound all proper and pristine, but it’s apparently bad form to anger the male species of this fish when eating. Just ask female cleaner fish, who will be chastised by their male counterparts if they attach to and nibble on the mucous of larger, client fish while the males are already having themselves a bite to eat. For some more context, cleaner fish subsist on parasites that are attached on the client fish, which willingly let these smaller creatures feast on their mucous to get clean. In the wild, male cleaner fish have been found chasing female cleaners that interrupted their meals, and a new study that isolated these fish in an aquarium with prawn (a delicious item that simulated client fish mucous) and less-filling fish flakes confirmed that the males were in fact punishing the females. Specifically, every time a female ate a prawn, the researchers would remove all of the other prawn and leave the nasty flakes in the water. Angry over this development, the male cleaner fish would then correct the females for their behavior, and the females would eventually stop eating the prawn while the males were eating them. Unfortunately for male cleaner fish, their toughness is a bit hypocritical as they have been found to interrupt and steal meals from other weaker cleaner fish.

Large Damselfish: The Brutish Landlords of the Sea

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With fewer shelter and resources in coral reefs due to climate change, larger damselfish have responded by bullying their juvenile counterparts. More specifically, larger damselfish will literally push smaller damselfish out of the coral reefs, leaving them exposed to predators. In a recent study, researchers learned that while damselfish tend to live deeper in living coral, they stay higher in dead or bleached coral. To make up for this lack of room and protection, older damselfish will force the younger damselfish out of the dead coral, where they are 4 times more likely to die than when compared to living in healthy coral. Guess “all for one, one for all” doesn’t apply to the damselfish, which are a true reflection of a cutthroat “survival of the fittest” attitude.

Don’t Cross the Path of An Angry Fruit Fly

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Fruit flies are historically known as calm creatures that graze peacefully around each other when eating food. However, a recent study learned that fruit flies turn into hardcore, street fighters when a pheromone, known as 11-cis-vaccenylacetate (CVA), is introduced into the air. Upon smelling this chemical, the fruit flies literally became violent with each other, according to a study that examined 100 fruit flies in a container. In a no-holds-barred cage match, the fruit flies started to karate chop, wrestle and violently snap at each other, all until the most intimidating fruit fly had scared the others away. However, when a few fruit flies were removed from the container with the infuriating pherome, they turned peaceful again. Apparently, fruit flies don’t react well to this pheromone or alcohol (see below).

Fruit Flies Love Their Alcohol to Dangerous Levels

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Not to pick on fruit flies, but a recent study showed that these insects are also highly influenced by alcohol. When subjected to ethanol alcohol, the fruit flies quickly became addicted and started to drink excessive levels of the sauce. However, when researchers tainted the ethanol with a nasty-tasting chemical, the alcoholic fruit flies still binged with no regard. After then being forced to go “cold turkey” for a couple of days, the fruit flies picked up right where they left off when subjected to the ethanol again. Drinking even more alcohol than before, the fruit flies demonstrated relapses and desperation similar to humans who are addicted to alcohol or other substances. Based on these findings, researchers hope to learn more about what chemically causes the fruit flies to become addicted. Since fruit flies share similar chemical pathways as humans, such findings could provide more insight on human addiction.