The fun of fish sex

Since Hollywood is not exactly known for its fidelity to basic biology (or even a passing acquaintance with reality) in its animated anthropomorphic movies, I tend to suspend my geek mind while watching them. But fish scientist Patrick Cooney couldn’t manage it, especially with the announcement of an upcoming sequel to Finding Nemo, and set the record straight in a Slate article titled “Finding Nemo lied to your kids”:

How Finding Nemo started:

Father and mother clownfish are tending to their clutch of eggs at their sea anemone when the mother is eaten by a barracuda. Nemo is the only surviving egg, and he grows up in his father’s anemone before getting lost on a crazy adventure!

How Finding Nemo should have started if it were biologically accurate:

Father and mother clownfish are tending to their clutch of eggs at their sea anemone when the mother is eaten by a barracuda. Nemo hatches as an undifferentiated hermaphrodite (as all clownfish are born) while his father transforms into a female clownfish now that his female mate is dead. Since Nemo is the only other clownfish around, he becomes male and mates with his father (who is now female). Should his father die, Nemo would change into a female clownfish and mate with another male. Although a much different storyline, it still sounds like a crazy adventure!

Check the article for a fun 1:30-minute video on the extraordinary sex lives of clownfish. What always blew my brain was how such a dramatic physiological change could be initiated by a change in the social environment, not the physical one. “Oh, Janet’s gone? Time to woman up and become the big female.”

It’s fun to contemplate a world in which Disney/Pixar would take this kind of cool reality and run with it. But given the fact that these organizations still don’t publicly recognize the existence of homosexuality, I suppose that recognizing the existence of sequential hermaphroditism is probably a long way off. Too bad; the kids would love it.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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