Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 171–185

Prey selection by coral-feeding butterflyfishes: strategies to maximize the profit

  • Timothy C. Tricas

DOI: 10.1007/BF00002210

Cite this article as:
Tricas, T.C. Environ Biol Fish (1989) 25: 171. doi:10.1007/BF00002210


Factors that structure preferences among food corals were examined for the obligate coral-feeding butterflyfishChaetodon multicinctus. In the field, fish show a simple repetitious pattern of foraging composed of (1) pre-encounter search for coral colonies, and (2) post-encounter inspection/orientation, bite, and consumption of polyps. Rose coral,Pocillopora meandrina, and the massive coral,Porites lobata, were taken in higher proportions than their percentage substrate cover, while finger coral,Porites compressa, was taken in lower proportion. Paired presentations of coral colonies in the lab gave similar results:Poc. meandrina was preferred overPor. lobata which was preferred overPor. compressa. Poc. meandrina tissue had the highest energy content, lowest handling time, and highest profitability. Energy content did not differ amongPorites tissues, but handling time was greater and more inspective eye movements were made while foraging on the branched finger coral,Por. compressa. Experimental manipulation of coral colony morphology indicate preferences amongPorites are most likely structured by handling costs. Predictions of a simple prey-choice foraging model are supported in theC. multicinctus system if abundance of the branched coralPor. compressa is estimated as that available to fishes rather than percentage substrate cover. The relative size and abundance of stinging nematocysts are also consistent with observed foraging patterns in the field, but await immunological confirmation. Coral-feeding butterflyfishes offer unique opportunities to test models of foraging ecology in reef fishes, and the direction of future studies is suggested.

Key words

ChaetodontidaeCorallivoreCoral reef fishEnergy maximizerFeedingOptimal foraging

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy C. Tricas
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaHonoluluU.S.A.
  2. 2.Department of OtolaryngologyWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisU.S.A.
  3. 3.Marine Biological LaboratoryWoods HoleU.S.A.