Corals are marine organisms boasting thin, mucus-covered flesh that contains venomous, stinging cells spread over a razor-sharp skeleton. Of the more than 6,000 fish species that live on reefs, only about 128 eat corals. Scientists knew that the yellow-and-purple tubelip wrasse was one of them, but how it did it was a mystery.
The researchers used a scanning electron microscope to determine the structure of its fleshy, pouty-looking lips and high-speed video to learn what it does while feeding.
A colorful reef fish called a tubelip wrasse is seen feeding on coral in this undated photo released by James Cook University researchers in Townsville, Queensland, Australia on June 5, 2017. Photo taken from Reuters
Scientists on Monday described for the first time how the fish thrives in the Indian Ocean and central-western Pacific as one of the few creatures capable of dining on corals, one of the planet's most difficult menu items.
"Kissing the mucus and flesh of corals with self-lubricating lips was not what we were expecting," said marine biologist Víctor Huertas of James Cook University in Australia.
The thick lips of the fish, which reaches about 7 inches (18 cm) long, were found to be made of a tightly packed series of thin folds of tissue, like the underside of a mushroom top, covered in slime from mucus-secreting cells.
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