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Seeing what appears to be cleaning behavior in a fish that doesn't clean.

675 Views 5 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Betta132
Lately, I've seen something a bit odd. My angelfish will slowly approach one of my sunfish, and the sunfish will respond by tilting itself head-down and going pale. The angelfish will then closely inspect the sunfish's flank, and after a moment of inspection it will either lightly nip at one spot or leave without doing anything.
The posture and pale coloration looks like what's displayed by fish at a cleaner station, and the angel's behavior doesn't seem aggressive- no flaring, no posturing, just an inspection and then maybe one little nip. Could this be a couple different species worth of intimidation attempts that are getting cross-wired and look like cleaner behavior when combined, or is there any this is actual cleaner behavior?
The angel is little, if that makes a difference- under 3" long including the tail.
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I am not entirely sure where freshwater Sunfish are typically from, but I think they may just be in North America? Where as freshwater Angelfish are from South America/Amazon, so the two species wouldn't encounter each other in the wild so I doubt they would have developed a symbiotic relationship as that of a cleaner fish.

As far as I know, cleaning symbiosis is almost entirely only seen in saltwater, with just maybe a few mentioned ever happening among freshwater fish, so the odds of it being a actual cleaning are pretty unlikely, it probably just looked that way from the peck, but wasn't actual cleaning.

However, no one can say for a fact that it couldn't develop just because it doesn't happen in nature, but it would still be extremely rare.

I haven't seen the behavior myself so I can't form my own interpretation of the behavior you witnessed.

If you could capture it on video that would be great!

But seeing as how they are probably both rather a decent size, I doubt the angel is really small enough to pick/clean anything off the sunfish and I don't think there is anything on the sunfish for any fish to pick at.

I am leaning toward it being a very submissive sunfish and the angel, wasn't intentionally challenging (so the typical domination behaviors weren't seen) the sunfish, but then just did a slight nudge/mouth push/peck just as a little reminder of who is the dominant one (guess you could call it low intensity dominating). Which is seen in many animals and even fish, where the alpha, not actively challenging, but if someone submissive crossed it's path/got in the way, it may give it a slight nudge. Or a very similar behavior, pretty much bullying, where a submissive fish would submit and stay still, but the aggressor fish would still come over just to push around the fish even though it submitted (yeah they may hover there for bit before giving a slight peck). That's been seen in many fish as well (German rams as an example, can often do this). If the angel does dominate the sunfish at other times, then there is a high chance that may be the case.

But if they both swim around peacefully never trying to dominate each other, it may just be a mere friendly social interaction/greeting between the two, maybe out of boredom/loneliness. It would be great if they are getting along, as I've heard Sunfish and Cichlids don't always work out (depending on species).

I'm merely guessing though.

Aren't they rather newly introduced together? (I don't recall an angel being with the sunfish(s))

By the way, how have the fish been doing (the one that was skinny and not doing too well)?
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