Time to clean

We humans often see ourselves as separate from the animal kingdom, you have animals and us. I personally think that Mother Nature came up with something different concept and I see a lot of similarities between humans and animals. One of them is regular washing and brushing, which many animals do in a kind of car wash. That is of course not a street with rotating brushes or a wax turn, but a place where certain animals help other animals to stay clean while they themselves immediately get a meal and so everyone benefits from it.

Fusiliers getting a wash

Everyone has heard of cleaning stations,for example when they go on a diving holiday to see mantas, want know that these elegant animals come to specific places to be cleaned by cleaner fish. But there are also plenty of shrimps that clean other animals, or how about young animals that as long as they are young also participate in the washing of others and that goes much further than just the manta. The funny thing is that these stations or car washes have a kind of ‘code of conduct’ and once you understand how that works, you suddenly see many more places where cleaning is taking place.

A cleaner shrimp
cleaner wrasse
The long armed banded boxer shrimp

A cleaning station is often active away from the current, which means that the cleaner fish are, for example, behind a coral block on the side where the current is less.The cleaning station is often the same piece of coral or cave, but moved from left to right depending on where the current is coming from. I myself often recognize the station by the behavior of the animal that is being cleaned. For example fusiliers that you normally find in large schools next to the reef and now suddenly all come close to the coral and then all swim past the same point. Or how about sweetlips that like to hang under an overhang in a group and now suddenly I see one alone and it just hangs next to a piece of coral. There are also fish that lie down to be cleaned, such as the titan trigger fish or the bat fishes. It is also striking that the fish that is being cleaned often looks at you and hangs still and as soon as you swim towards it and close by, it quickly moves in the other direction.

a titan on its side to get washed

There are a number of unwritten rules in these cleaning stations. First of all, you normally wait for your turn to be cleaned, so you don’t approach the station direct but wait in a kind of line. If you now swim directly towards the station, that is an emergency and you immediately get access. That is also the reason that many fish move to the side as you approach direct, while if you approach them more sideways and wait neatly you can get really close to the fish, bnecauise then you are joining the waiting line. The cleaner fish remove dead cells and the necessary parasites. The accidental removal of living cell material feels like a pinprick and not only with us, but also with fish. Sometimes you see a fish being startled and swim away or suddenly change color like with doctor fish. And if that happens, take a look at the cleaning fish, because then you will see that the fish that ‘accidentally’ eats the living material is suddenly attacked by the other cleaners. I always see that as a tap on the fingers of one of the colleagues to warn them not to drive the business away 😉

porcupine puffer
black snapper

If you want to get yourself cleaned, you have to hang very still and be really close to the cleaning station, don’t make any sudden movements and wait patiently. If you do then you will see that the cleaning fish or the shrimps come to you and when they trust you they will start to clean, really great fun! And once you experience how that cleaning is done, you can also go a step further, for example take your regulator out of your mouth and open your mouth carefully and wait. Because the cleaner fish also want to crawl in there and even some shrimp species may like to enter your mouth to remove the food residues. Really super funny!

Love life… Blow Bubbles…