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January 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 30, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Filefish’s Camouflage: Smelling like Coral

from the January, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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If you eat garlic, your breath smells like it. But the orange-spotted filefish, which feeds exclusively on Acropora corals in Australia, takes that one better: Its whole body smells like the corals it eats. While your garlic breath may disclose you to your predators, the coral smell hides the filefish from its predators, such as the potato cod.

This is the first time scientists have discovered a vertebrate chemically camouflaging itself via its diet, said Rohan Brooker of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who led a study with results that appeared last month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Visual camouflage is well known in the animal kingdom, from stick-like insects to owls that blend into trees. But many other animals interpret the world mostly by smell. "For them, chemical camouflage may be far more important to stay hidden," says Brooker....

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