Just like humans, when angelfish fish get old, the rest of the community helps them out! The relationship between young queen angelfish and their older counterparts is both interesting and touching.
A Symbiotic Relationship
Young queen angelfish need a lot of protein, and don’t have a lot of practice eating diverse foods yet. In fact, most young queen angelfish feed mainly on algae.
On the other hand, older queen angelfish know what foods to eat (and are a big fan of feeding on sponges in coral reefs) but suffer from parasites that attach themselves to the scales and gills of their bodies.
The need for young angelfish to have a quick and nutritious meal paired with the need for older angelfish to be stripped of inhibiting parasites allows for a perfect symbiotic relationship between the two fish “generations.”
In this relationship, the young queen angelfish help older queen angelfish by eating the parasites off of their bodies, and the older fish with parasites give the young fish an opportunity to have an easy and much needed meal.
Not Just Angelfish!
This symbiotic relationship of young angelfish eating parasites off of the backs of others extends past just older angelfish. In fact, young angelfish are responsible for helping numerous large fish species with parasite control in coral reef communities.
Fun fact: angelfish even clean parasites off of sharks!
The way this symbiotic relationship works is through what marine biologists have deemed “cleaning stations.” In these cleaning stations, queen angelfish line up as a way to communicate that they are offering a “cleaning service” to any fish who wants a deep clean.
Sure enough, fish (and sharks!) from all over the coral reef will come to these cleaning stations to do just that: be cleaned. The queen angelfish gets a nice buffet meal, and the fish go through the ocean version of a car wash.
An interesting fact about these cleaning stations is that they are “safe zones” from predation. Larger fish and sharks that come to be cleaned do not take advantage of the queen angelfish’s services; rather, they kindly engage in the cleaning process and go on their way.
Queen angelfish are pretty unique in the way that they help the other fish around them (even dangerous ones!) get clean from parasites that could inhibit their quality of life. This symbiotic relationship allows the young queen angelfish to have a nice snack, while the older and larger fish get clear of parasites.