Predators come in all shapes and sizes and the Australian Dusky Dottyback, which lives in the Great Barrier Reef, is a testament to the fact.
The scientific name for the Dusky Dottyback is Pseudochromis fuscus and it is a tiny predatory fish, which is found in the Indo-Pacific. The Dusky Dottyback can be found in a wide variety of hues and the predatory fish has the unusual ability to change its color to mimic its surroundings.
The tiny Dusky Dottyback's Chamaeleon-like abilities aid it in altering its color to resemble the fish it will prey on and comes in handy while hunting. Per scientists, by doing so, the Dusky Dottyback - whose abilities are belied by its size - is able to sneak-up on its prey without being noticed and devours their little ones.
Moreover, this ability also helps the fish in hiding from predators that are lurking in the Great Barrier Reef.
"The Dottybacks have developed an intricate form of mimicry that not only gives them a predatory advantage but also protects them from their own predators," says Dr. Fabio Cortesi, first author of the study.
While the ability to mimic is prevalent in many animals, the Dottyback's ability is on another level altogether making the fish pretty much a master of disguise! This of course spells trouble for its potential prey especially the damselfish, which are its favorite target.
A team of researchers from the UK, Australia, Canada, Switzerland and Sweden led by Dr. Fabio Cortesi and Professor Walter Salzburger, evolutionary biologists from the University of Basel observed the habits of the Dusky Dottyback and discovered why the fish had the ability to alter its color.
Previously, researchers had presumed that the Dusky Dottyback's ability to change color was owing to the marine animal's habitat or sex. It was only post the study that the researchers discovered the Dottyback's unusual capability.
The predatory fish is able to change its color in a relatively short span and the primary motive is to imitate other species of fish in their habitat so that they can eat their offspring by being inconspicuous. This way the prey does not sense any danger and is an easy target.
"This strategy is very similar to the classic example of the wolf in sheep's clothing. However, while the wolf may be found out eventually, Dottybacks are able to change their coloration, making it difficult for their prey to learn about the threat they impose," notes Dr. Fabio.
The researchers also conducted a study to see how effective the color altering abilities of the Dusky Dottyback was in safeguarding it from possible predators. To do this, the team trained bigger coral trout to attack images of the Dottybacks in a wide variety of backgrounds.
The researchers discovered that when the Dottybacks' color was changed to match with its surroundings, the coral trout struck at the images with less frequency.
The researchers have disclosed the findings in a report in the journal "Current Biology."