If you’ve ever seen a remora, you’d probably have seen it attached to an animal much bigger than itself – perhaps a ray, or even a shark. Its modified dorsal fin acts like a suction cup, allowing it to cling to the topside or underside of its host. When attached to the top of its host, its body is flipped upside down. Odd as it seems, it appears perfectly happy to remain that way.
A symbiotic relationship
Attaching to a host saves the remora a large amount of energy as it does not have to swim around on its own. At the same time, the remora receives ‘complimentary’ food and protection: it feeds on leftover scraps from its host, whose large size also deters predators from targeting the remora.
But this fish is no freeloader. Instead, it has a mutually beneficial relationship with its hosts. It eats away dead skin cells and parasites like copepods (especially on the underbellies of rays). This symbiotic relationship is called mutualism, in which both parties benefit from the relationship.
A shy introvert
Here at S.E.A. Aquarium, our resident Live Sharksucker Remora (Echeneis naucrates) resides in our Open Ocean Habitat. It is almost always found with one of the big rays, usually our Reef Manta Rays (Manta alfredi) or Thorntail Stingrays (Dasyatis thetidis).
On the rare occasion that it is alone, it is usually found attached to the habitat’s large acrylic panel, or one of the acrylic windows of Ocean Suites.
The remora is an incredibly shy animal, limiting its interactions only to its hosts. It does not socialise or interact with other animals in the habitat. When our aquarists approach it, it always swims a slight distance away before reattaching to the acrylic panel.
That said, this introvert can be feisty when it feels threatened. This happens very often when our aquarists conduct physical examinations of the manta rays. When the remora feels that the aquarist has invaded its ‘territory’, it nips his hands! Thankfully, most of our aquarists are aware of its temperament and manage to avoid getting nipped on most occasions.
The next time you’re at our Open Ocean Habitat, look out for our one and only remora. It usually spends its days hitching rides on the big rays, moving from one end of the habitat to the other!