Thursday, 8 June 2017

Lip-Smacking Good! How 'Mushroom-Lipped' Fish Score Hard-to-Get Meals

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | June 6, 2017 03:08pm ET

Slobbering all over your food is generally frowned upon in polite company — in human Western society. But if you're a tubelip wrasse (Labropsis australis) — a small, colorful reef fish native to the western Pacific and Indian oceans — sloppy, slimy lip dribbles serve as a vital defense against your coral dinner's venomous stings.

Specialized, self-lubricating smackers are the key to the fish's slobbery success, scientists discovered. The wrasses' mouths are unusual, to say the least — their fleshy pucker is dramatically different from the lips of their cousins that don't dine on stinging corals.

Wrasses that don't eat corals have smooth, thin lips that don't quite cover their teeth. But L. australis' full and fleshy lips resemble a mushroom's gills: They're packed with thin, vertical, slime-slick membranes. Their lip surface is similarly covered in folds of tissue that secrete generous amounts of mucus, coating the lips like the world's gloppiest lip gloss, and protecting the fish from the corals' venom, according to a new study. 
If you've ever suffered from the dripping nose that accompanies a cold, just imagine that same sensation in your lips, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the tubelip wrasse's slimy adaptation, study co-author David Bellwood, a reef fish researcher and professor at the College of Science and Engineering at James Cook University in Australia, said in a statement.

The researchers captured high-resolution images of the fishes' lips using a scanning electron microscope, revealing the unusual mushroom-like folds that produced copious amounts of mucus.


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