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Prominent ornaments and rapid color change: use of horns as a social and reproductive signal in unicornfish (Acanthuridae: Naso)


The behavior of two unicornfishes, Naso unicornis with a horn-shaped protuberance on the forehead and Naso vlamingii with a round protuberance, was observed in social and reproductive contexts in an aquarium. Males of both species performed displays that were associated with quick changes in the colors of the protuberance and other body parts, highlighting the protuberance by color contrast. The displays with color changes of the protuberance took place when a male courted a female in the evening or in the night. The same displays were occasionally performed by males toward females throughout the daylight hours. In N. vlamingii, dominant males displayed the protuberance toward subordinate smaller males. Although the sizes and shapes of the protuberance were sexually monomorphic, females of both species rarely made displays of the protuberance. A hypothesis about the function of the protuberance in unicornfishes is proposed: that males use the protuberance as a conspicuous signal in courtship and contests among males by emphasizing it with quick changes of its color contrasts. We argue that the combination of morphologically distinct protuberances and quick changes of their color is a sexually selected trait among unicornfishes, because these characters play important roles in intersexual and intrasexual interactions.

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Correspondence to Hiroshi Arai.

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Arai, H., Sato, T. Prominent ornaments and rapid color change: use of horns as a social and reproductive signal in unicornfish (Acanthuridae: Naso). Ichthyol Res 54, 49–54 (2007).

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Key words

  • Forehead protuberance
  • Unicornfish
  • Display signal
  • Color change
  • Sexual selection