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Sunday, 10 January 2010

Fish 'acts like Lord Sugar when dealing with subordinates'

A species of fish exhibits traits similar to Lord Sugar when dealing with subordinates who fail in a task, new research has shown.

Published: 7:30AM GMT 08 Jan 2010

Cleaner wrasse, which live on reefs, provide a valuable service by feeding on the parasites of ''client'' fish.

Males are in charge in communities of cleaner wrasse and the new research shows they have much in common with their ''Lord Sugar'' style human counterparts.

Like the belligerent Amstrad founder and boss on the television show The Apprentice, male cleaner wrasse will not tolerate failure.

When the females fall down on the job by offending a client, they are chased aggressively by the angry males.

The behaviour is an unusual example of animals delivering a ''third-party punishment'' for misdeeds that do not directly affect them.

Although cleaner fish pick parasites off their larger reef-mates, they can get a bigger meal by taking a bite of the mucus on a client's skin. However this is seen as an offensive ''cheating'' act, and likely to drive the ''customer'' away.

Any female spotted committing such a flagrant breach of the rules provokes a sharp reaction from the boss.

The boss/employee relationship between male and female cleaner fish was investigated in the laboratory by scientists led by a team from the Zoological Society of London.

A plate full of ordinary food and more tempting prawns was offered to the fish, but removed whenever one of them ate a prawn.

Researchers quickly saw that males would chase females who could not resist the prawns, thereby causing the food plate to be lost. After being punished, the females were less likely to eat a prawn again.

The study, reported in the journal Science, shed light on what occurred between the fish and their ''clients'' in nature.

Dr Nichola Raihani, from the Zoological Society of London, said: ''Clients will leave if they are cheated at a cleaning station. That means the male's dinner leaves if the female cheats. By punishing cheating females, the males are not really sticking up for the clients but are making sure that they get a decent meal.''


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