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We Finally Know Why Clownfish Have Stripes

And not all stripes are created equal.


Clownfish get their names from their colorful bodies splashed with white stripes not unlike a clown's makeup, per NatGeo.

But we now know why and how the clownfish got its name-making stripes.

why clownfish have stripes

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According to Science Daily, CNRS reported that a team of French researchers was determined to get to the bottom of the stripes on clownfish. It's not as simple as why do they have them, or where did they come from, because not all clownfish stripes are the same.

LiveScience reported that there are 28 species of clownfish that vary in color from orange to red to pink, yellow, black and brown.

And not every species has three stripes like your classic "Finding Nemo" clownfish.

According to CNRS, the researchers determined that today's clownfish descended from a clownfish ancestor with three stripes. But, over time, some species evolved to lose a stripe or three.

It's also not uncommon for clownfish to gain and lose stripes as they age.

According to Phys.org, the same researchers found that some young clownfish are born without any stripes at all.

Think: dalmatian puppies who are born without spots, but gain them later in life.

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As they mature, striped clownfish species begin to gain their adult patterns. CNRS reported that stripes come in one at a time, beginning at the head.

Then, as they move through their life, clownfish can also lose stripes again, but in reverse order. So the tail stripe would disappear first, since it was added last.

This sequential adding of stripes is why some species, which have only one or two stripes, never have just a tail stripe. Phys.org reported that one-stripe species have only a head band, two-stripe species have a head and middle band, and three-stripe fish have a head, middle and tail.

The reason different species have different stripe patterns is pretty important.

According to Phys.org, the amount of stripes can help different species identify each other for breeding purposes. And since juveniles grow stripes slowly, the number of stripes can even indicate how sexually mature a potential mate is.

For example, according to Ocellaris Clownfish, males don't reach breeding age until around 6 months and females at around 2 years. Those emerging stripes can come in handy for a male to realize a female isn't ready for motherhood yet because she doesn't have enough stripes.

CNRS also reported that since several species can occupy similar parts of a reef, it helps fish from the same species establish social groupings and homes alongside each other.

You know, so not knowing where your son is doesn't have to happen in real life.

why clownfish have stripes

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