Scientist describes first known use of colored rocks in fish nest decoration | 11/9/2018 | Staff
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Cutlip minnows, a species of small fish that inhabit streams, could be described as the master interior decorators of the fish world.

Working with collaborators in eastern Ontario, Canada, Andy Bramburger, a research associate at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute, found that male cutlip minnows carefully select pebbles that are darker and more color-saturated than the streambed background to construct their conspicuous mound-shaped nests. The researchers noticed the nests while conducting regular surveys of the stream and wondered if the fish responsible for building them were indeed choosing nesting materials based on color.

Findings - Journal - Fish - Biology

Their findings were published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

Along with several students, Bramburger and Brian Hickey from the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences located recently-constructed cutlip minnow nests during the nesting season in April. Once the eggs had hatched and male cutlip minnows—who build and defend the nests—and juveniles had left the stream, the researchers collected pebbles from nest sites as well as from background areas of the streambed. They used a digital camera system and image analysis software to measure the wavelength, color saturation, and brightness of similarly-sized nest and background pebbles.


The researchers found that:

male cutlip minnows choose rocks that are darker and more color-saturated than other rocks in the stream, leading to nests that contrast sharply with the relatively drab background;

Rocks - Wavelength—with - Range - Pressure - Cutlip

nest rocks are remarkable similar in wavelength—with a range of less than 4 nanometers—meaning there is a severe pressure for male cutlip minnows to build their nests using rocks of a specific color, specifically an orange hue in this case.

"Cutlip minnows have a specialized, three-lobed lower jaw that they use to pick up and carry pebbles to the nest," said Bramburger. "That means that nests are composed of uniformly sized pebbles. We needed to be sure that the differences in...
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