Biology Open (Nov 2014)

Mate choice and body pattern variations in the Crown Butterfly fish Chaetodon paucifasciatus (Chaetodontidae)

  • Keren Levy,
  • Amit Lerner,
  • Nadav Shashar

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 3, no. 12
pp. 1245 – 1251


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Mate choice is an important ecological behavior in fish, and is often based on visual cues of body patterns. The Crown Butterfly fish Chaetodon paucifasciatus (Chaetodontidae) is a monogamist, territorial species; it swims in close proximity to its partner throughout most of its life. This species is characterized by a pattern of 6–8 vertical black stripes on a white background, on both sides of its body. Our aim was to define spatial features (variations) in body patterns by evaluating the level of dissimilarity between both sides of each individual fish, and the level of dissimilarity between patterns of different individuals. In addition, we tested whether the fish are attracted to or reject specific features of the body patterns. Features were defined and counted using photographs of body patterns. Attraction to or rejection of specific features were tested behaviorally using a dual-choice experiment of video animations of individuals swimming over a coral-reef background. We found that the patterns of each fish and sides of the body were no less dissimilar, compared intraspecificly to other fish, and that each side pattern was unique and distinguishable. Variations in the patterns occurred mostly in the last three posterior stripes. Individuals were mainly attracted to conspecifics with multiple crossing patterns (two or more consecutive crossings), and rejected patterns with holes. Our results suggest that in this species the unique body pattern of each fish is used for conspecific identification of mates and intruders.