Most of the time, the inhabitants of my little reef live peacefully side by side. Conflicts usually amount to little more than a flash of fins and a “move along” when someone comes too close to Emo the clown’s anthelia home.
Occasionally, however, turf wars happen.
The anthelia coral where Emo hosts grows beautifully and fast, in part because the clownfish takes great care to groom and protecting the coral’s arms. As a result, I have to “prune” the coral regularly, to keep it from overgrowing parts of the tank and interfering with the nearby territory belonging to our watchman goby, Emperor Maximus Angryfish I.
Max and Emo get along well for the most part. Max inhabits a cave in the rocks, while Emo has his coral host. They let one another swim by without fighting and share the water column at feeding times.
A couple of weeks ago, however, Emo’s coral grew out enough to touch the edge of Max’s cave … and therein lies a photographic story.
Early that evening, Max swam out and noticed Emo hovering closer than usual to the entrance to Max’s cave. For about an hour, Max gave Emo the stink-eye, as if hoping the clownfish would take his coral and go.
Emo, understandably, thought that Max was the one with an obligation to move.
Emo flared his fins at Max in a manner the Emperor found offensive … and Max replied with a wide-mouthed threat of his own:
Emo fled before the Emperor’s wrath.
The process repeated itself for several minutes. Eventually I intervened and snipped away the offending coral arms (which found a new home first at the local fish store, and from there into other reefs). With the boundaries once again clear, the border dispute dissolved like sugar in tea. Moments later, Max and Emo hovered side by side, the argument entirely forgotten.
On the reef, as in life, everyone seems to do best when the rules … and the borders … stay clear.