A recent paper in Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation describes cleaning behavior that had previously not been documented in a particular species. The findings are the result of the keen eyes of two active REEF surveyors – Carol Cox and Frank Krasovec. Carol frequently surveys in the northern Gulf of Mexico and Frank surveys in his home state of North Carolina. Both photographed Yellowprow Goby, Elacatinus xanthiprora, cleaning other fishes, which is not typical for the species. Scientist and frequent REEF advisor, Dr. Ben Victor, noticed the photos, and started working with Carol and Frank to more fully document and publish the findings. Frank co-authored the paper with Ben.

There are several species in the western Atlantic genus Elacatinus, and they are broadly separated into two groups – cleaners and sponge-dwellers. The Yellowprow Goby is typically known to be a sponge-dwelling goby. In most locations within the region, several different Elacatinus species are present. However, in the northern temperate limits, along the northeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and along the east coast of the US in North Carolina (beyond the range of coral-reef development), the only Elacatinus species present is the Yellowprow Goby. It appears that the lack of other local cleaner species has allowed the evolution of facultative cleaning behavior in a species from a group characterized by the absence of that behavior.

This is a great example of the power of citizen scientists, and highlights their role in continuing the tradition of field naturalists. Way to go, Carol and Frank!

The full citation of the paper is Victor and Krasovec. 2018. Facultative cleaning behavior in a western Atlantic sponge goby, Elacatinus xanthiprora (Teleostei: Gobiidae). Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation, 31, 1–7. This paper, and the 60+ other scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects are available at www.REEF.org/db/publications.