Deb Susan’s Fish … are Friends

“Best Friends” don’t only exist in a human context. Sometimes, friendship crosses species borders, and does so in surprising ways.

Despite the mistaken impressions FINDING NEMO created in popular culture, clownfish aren’t the friendliest creatures on the reef. Clowns are feisty, territorial fish that brook no interference with their hosts and demand that other fish stay well away.

13H Little EmoAmong the various species of clowns, the Maroon Clownfish is the undisputed king of territorialism (read: they’re kind of buttheads). Maroon clowns will attack anything that comes in range of their coral or anemone hosts. (I have the bites to prove it, and I’m not the only one.) In fact, seahorse-keeping wisdom counsels against any kind of clownfish on a seahorse reef, because clowns will attack a seahorse that inadvertently strays too close to the clown’s host coral.

But my son REALLY WANTED a clownfish, and I’d heard rare tales of success with clowns obtained at a small enough size. In theory, the baby clownfish never realizes he’s grown, so he leaves the “giant seahorse monsters” alone. We decided to try, though I told my son that the first time “Emo” attacked a seahorse, he’d have to find another reef to terrorize.

It was a plan.

Little Emo quickly settled into a large anthelia coral at the bottom of the reef. So far, so good–the seahorses mostly preferred the top of the reef. Within a month, however, we discovered a rare and beautiful friendship forming.

My timid male seahorse, Ghillie, took an immediate interest in the little fish that hid in the waving coral. He swam right down and plopped himself in the middle of the anthelia, inadvertently creating the very situation I most hoped to avoid.

13H Emo and Ghillie 1

To my shock, little Emo didn’t mind.

In fact, the two became instant friends. They spent almost every evening “hanging out” in the anthelia. Each one seemed to take comfort from the presence of the other, and never once did they fight.

In the year since then, Emo has grown both larger and more territorial. Any fish (or person) which comes within six inches of the anthelia will 13D16 Cyg Hiding 3get bitten.

Except for Ghillie.

To this day, the clownfish loves and remembers his seahorse friend. They still share the anthelia in the evening. It’s an odd and funny sight to see the aggressive, not-so-little clown peeking out one side of the coral and timid Ghillie staring at me from the other. It proves something to me about friendship too.

A best friend is someone who gets you.

You don’t have to look alike, or think alike, or even necessarily want similar things from life. You’re friends because you find a measure of peace and joy in one another’s company. You’re friends because you make one another laugh. You’re friends because you appreciate the beauty and happiness friendship brings to each of you … and because you know, on some level, that you are better together than alone.

“Best friends” — which I also translate as “real friends,” because I think a person can have more than one — don’t have to explain what friendship is.

13H Emo and Ghillie

They just know.

Do you have friends who “get you” despite the fact that you’re very different? I know I do. I’d love to hear about yours in the comments.


11 Replies to “Deb Susan’s Fish … are Friends”

    1. Thanks Linda! It’s been fun to watch it play out live in the evenings, too. I’ve got several unusual friendships going on in the tank – a great reminder that we’re not the only creatures who have friends.

  1. Sometimes my bff and I joke and said, “How are we friends?” We’re very different, but there is no one I laugh harder with or who gets me more, or will call me on my bullshit. Can’t really ask for more!

    1. Isn’t it true? I have a couple of good friends who are very different from me, and yet we get along beautifully. Sometimes it’s a true delight to have friends who let us celebrate differences as well as similarities.

  2. Oh my god, this is so precious. I love the last picture.

    I have friends who couldn’t be more different than me on the surface of things, but, man, do we get each other. It’s a rare and wonderful thing.

    1. I love that last photo too. In fact, I use it as the lock wallpaper on my mobile phone. I’ve showed it to a lot of experienced reefkeepers, and the usual reaction is dropping jaws and bulging eyes. It’s one of those photos – and friendships – you have to see to believe. I’m just glad I have the ability to share it 🙂

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